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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespro della Beata Virgine (1610) [90:06]
Julie Cooper, Laura Oldfield (sopranos); David Bates (counter-tenor); Simon Wall, Nathan Vale, Nicholas Mulroy (tenors); Robert Rice, James Oldfield (baritones); Rodolfus Choir; David Goode (organ)
The English Cornet and Sackbut Ensemble; Southern Sinfonia/Ralph Allwood (conductor), Aidan Oliver (assistant conductor)
rec. Eton College Chapel 6, 7, 9 April 2007
Texts and translations included
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD109 [51:20 + 38:46]



As Clifford Bartlett rightly observes in his very helpful note with this set, any conductor wanting to perform the Monteverdi Vespers faces innumerable questions that must be addressed before even buying the music or booking the musicians. Should the usual antiphons be added, and if so how? In what order should the music be played? What forces are the vocal lines intended for? Should “Lauda Jerusalem” and the Magnificat be performed at the notated pitch or be transposed down a fourth? These are just a few of the most fundamental problems which make performing even, say, the Mozart Requiem seem straightforward in comparison. What seemed radical in the time of Denis Stevens or Denis Arnold has already been overtaken by more recent scholarship.
 
In many ways the answers that Ralph Allwood has given now the conventional ones. No antiphons are added and the order is that of the 1610 publication, omitting the six part Mass (a pity as there is plenty of room for it and it would have suited these singers well). A small choir is used, with the more ornate parts sung by soloists. All the movements are performed at written pitch, which as usual means that the “Lauda Jerusalem” is uncomfortable in places, but that at the end of the Magnificat the two tenors sail majestically up to their Gs rather than the distinctly less climatic Ds which result from a downward transposition. Whatever the musicological arguments, the swings and roundabouts of the musical implications of transposition seem to be fairly equally balanced.
 
The Rodolfus Choir is chosen from participants in the six annual Eton Choir Courses. Its members are all aged up to 25, and are a mixture of choral scholars and those at school or music college. The result is a stunningly fresh sound, and singing that mixes panache with discipline and highly polished technique. The soloists are presumably drawn from the choir and are generally accomplished and highly musical in their phrasing. I do miss the kind of individuality we hear from soloists in other recordings using well known and experienced singers, especially in the case of the tenors, but after a somewhat underpowered “Nigra sum” this soon ceased to bother me, and I greatly enjoyed this performance for what it is rather than in a comparison with other versions. The instrumental groups both play one to a part on period instruments, and like the choir they show complete technical control and musicianship. The recording is clear and the booklet well and readably set out.
 
With a work of such variety and imagination, wise listeners will not want to confine themselves to a single version. There are many worthy recordings, often with completely different approaches to this, but this nonetheless takes a special place due to its freshness and consistency of approach. Can honourably serve either as your sole version or, better still, as a contrast to the splendid but very different recordings by, say, Parrott or Gardiner.
 
John Sheppard
 



 


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