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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespro Della Beata Vergine (1610)

(Vespers of the Blessed Virgin)
CD1
Deus in adiutorium [1:51]
Missus est Angelus [0:35]
Dixit Dominus [7:05]
Nigra Sum [3:18]
Ave Maria gratia plena [0:40]
Laudate pueri Dominum [5:47]
Canzon quarta. (Giovanni Paolo Cima (c. 1570-after 1622)) [1:36]
Ne timeas Maria [0:50]
Laetatus sum [6:25]
Toccata (Ercole Pasquini (1550s-1610s)) [1:45]
Dabit ei Dominus [0:46]
Nisi Dominus [4:23]
Secondo dialogo (Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634)) [1:10]
Ecce ancilla Domini [0:38]
Lauda Jerusalem [4:03]
Pulchra es [4:05]
CD2
Ecce virgo concipiet [0:31]
Ave maris stella [9:28]
Ave Maria gratia plena [0:16]
Spiritus Sanctus [0:41]
Magnificat [18:02]
Sonata sopra Sancta Maria [6:39]
Dominus vobiscum [1:47]
Duo seraphim [5:41]
Fidelium animae [0:17]
Organ improvisation [0:49]
Audi coelum [8:18]
Divinum auxilium [0:29]
Gabrieli Consort and Players/Paul McCreesh
rec. November 2005, Tonbridge Chapel, UK
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6147 [44:57 + 52:57]
 


Paul McCreesh is well known for successfully presenting early music within a wider liturgical context. Until now, my personal favourite example of this approach was his construction of a service based around Cristóbal de Morales’ Missa Mille regretz - now available on Archiv Blue 474228-2. On the present recording, McCreesh tackles Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, music he has been performing for at least twenty-five years.
 
This is a relatively ‘small scale’ approach, consistent with the current consensus that the works were composed for the Gonzaga Court in Mantua rather than the grand spaces of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice - where he was promoted to maestro di cappella in 1613. The choir comprised twelve voices, with four additional chant singers, and there are twenty instrumentalists listed. These forces provide an intimate, warm and atmospheric texture but they are also quite capable of passion and excitement whenever the score demands it.
 
Overall, the performance is a triumph. While we are unlikely ever to know the circumstances underpinning the composition or the exact ordering of the pieces for intended performance, McCreesh presents a very convincing account. By excluding the smaller of Monteverdi’s two Magnificat settings, and adjusting the order of the music as published, the work takes on a sense of coherence lacking in other interpretations.
 
The choir is superb throughout. Take, for example, the Dixit Dominus (CD1 mv 3): the interplay of the six voices and instrumentation is nothing short of amazing. In fact I was unable to identify a single weak link among the forces throughout the entire work, despite crystal clear recording quality by Deutsche Grammophon. If there is one criticism however, it is that the recording is biased towards the voices. I would have appreciated the instrumental parts being brought forward somewhat - especially the superb violin work of Catherine Martin and Oliver Webber. The Sonata sopra Sancta Maria (CD2 mv 17) has some of the very finest period instrument playing I have ever heard, the brass and strings interwoven to exceptionally compelling effect
 
The Vespers are, of course, full of jaw-droppingly beautiful moments. Here, I am drawn time and time again to the inventiveness and complexity of the vocal interchanges of the longer pieces, such as the Laudate pueri Dominum (CD1 mv 6), and the Ave maris stella (CD2 mv 2). The famous setting of the Duo Seraphim (CD2 mv 20) for three tenors - related to his Possente Spirito from L’Orfeo, composed around the same time - is also very fine indeed.
 
McCreesh chose to shift Duo Seraphim and Audi coelum (CD2 mv 23) to the end of the work - after the Magnificat, which rounds off Monterverdi’s print - and while this may present a somewhat anti-climactic end, it sounds convincing to my ears. Indeed, the Audi coelum, sung by Charles Daniels, is one of the highlights of the set.
 
Monteverdi enthusiasts need not hesitate in picking up this recording, and it would be a great first purchase for those who are not familiar with his works. Although there is some question of the recording balance of instrumental vs vocal parts, and some may question the lack of Italianate phrasing throughout, this is undoubtedly an important and satisfying release. However, I would have liked to have seen more thought go into the booklet notes. The transcript of a short conversation with McCreesh – available via the Deutsche Grammophon web site - plus vocal texts seem insufficient for such a project.
 
Peter Bright

 

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