Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Some items
to consider


New App by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for iOS and Android!

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 

REVIEW



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 

CD: MDT AmazonUK

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)
Nicholas Mulroy, Thomas Hobbs (tenor)
Choir of New College Oxford; Charivari Agréable/Edward Higginbottom
rec. 13-16, 22-23 July 2009, St. Michael’s Church, Summertown, Oxford, UK. DDD
NOVUM NCR 1382 [57:30 + 33:02]

Experience Classicsonline

The Vespro della Beata Vergine by Claudio Monteverdi is one of the monuments in music history. Monuments are usually the subject of thorough investigation, and that is also the case here. Ironically, such an investigation tends to raise more questions than can be answered. In his liner-notes to this recording Edward Higginbottom sums them up. At what pitch should this work be performed, how many singers should be used, where and how many instruments should be used? And then there is always the question of how exactly Monteverdi meant this work to be presented: was it a collection of pieces from which a maestro di cappella could take whatever he needed, or is it written as a coherent liturgical unity? The many recordings of the Vespers reflect the many and various answers to these questions.

There are good arguments in favour of most answers. And as long as there is no firm historical evidence none of these answers are 'right' or 'wrong'. In most cases the decisions taken by Edward Higginbottom make sense. To mention them briefly: the music is performed here as it is printed in the collection, without any additional liturgical chants. Only in some cases Monteverdi specifically requires instruments. Although it was common practice in Italy to add instruments to play colla voce this practice has not been followed: where no instruments are required or suggested the choir is accompanied by basso continuo only. In his notes on the performance Higginbottom doesn't deal with the scoring of the basso continuo. In this performance it is rather modest, with only organ and chitarrone, whereas in some other recordings they are joined by a string bass, and sometimes also a harp and a harpsichord or a second organ. In this recording the vocal scoring is basically one voice per part, with ripieno voices added where that is felt appropriate. The upper voices are sung by trebles; in Monteverdi's time these were likely shared by castratos, falsettos and trebles.

The only aspect where I find Higginbottom's decision questionable is the issue of pitch. He acknowledges that there is strong evidence that in Veneto the pitch was relatively high, and some performers adopt A=465', but Higginbottom has decided for 440' instead. There may be some good arguments for that, but his statement that in some sections the music becomes shrill with a high pitch fails to convince. Only last year I heard a performance in this high pitch, and I didn't notice any shrillness at all.

This recording has a number of virtues. The very fact that the solo parts are sung by members of the choir - the favoriti - guarantees a strong coherence between soli and tutti. This is without any doubt in accordance with the way religious music was performed in Monteverdi's days: the split between soloists and choir is unhistorical. This practice also results in an excellent blending of the voices in the concertos and the episodes for two or three voices from the Psalms. The Choir of New College has a very beautiful and strong sound, with considerable transparency. The delivery of the choir and the soloists is generally quite good. The instrumental parts are brilliantly played. The strings and the cornetts are equally impressive, and in various sections they show their skills in regard to ornamentation.

That said, this performance is not entirely satisfying. Firstly, the tempi are mostly moderate. One may argue that the text of Audi coelum justifies the rather slow tempo. But for the most part I find the chosen tempi too slow. That is in particular the case in the concerto Nigra sum which is slower than any recording I know. The Psalms could have been sung a little faster too. And when this would have gone together with stronger dynamic accents on the good notes the rhythmic pulse would have been better exposed than is the case here. The tempi at the second disc, with the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, Ave maris stella and the Magnificat, are more convincing.

Dynamically I find these performances too flat: there are too many long notes with hardly any dynamic gradation. In this regard I notice a difference between the vocal and the instrumental parts. That is also the case in regard to ornamentation, for instance in Ave maris stella. It is a sequence of seven verses, with instrumental ritornellos ad libitum. The first three verses are for the tutti, verses 4 to 6 are for a single voice, and the seventh is for tutti again. Whereas the instrumentalists add ornaments to their parts, the three soloists - two trebles and a tenor - don't apply any ornamentation. I find that rather odd, in particular as the material of the verses is the same - this really begs for variation through ornamentation.

The very issue of ornamentation is a matter of debate in music of Monteverdi's time. We know that performers were expected to add ornaments. At the same time various composers warned against exaggeration. Nicholas Mulroy is moderate in this respect in Nigra sum, and some may believe he has got it just right. But in Pulchra es Sebastian Cox and James Swash add hardly any ornaments at all, and that is disappointing.

The quality of the soloists is beyond doubt: they have all very nice voices which are well suited to this kind of repertoire, and they generally give good accounts. But I am surprised by the amount of vibrato in some of the trebles' voices, in particular those of Sebastian Cox and Hugh Cutting. It is not nice, and I wonder if they can't do without it. If so, that seems to me a matter of serious concern. If they can, their performances should have been corrected through another recording session. It really takes away some of the virtues of their contributions to this recording. Thomas Hobbs is also not without vibrato, and the intonation in Deus in adiutorium suffers from it. But in Audi coelum he sings really well.

Time to sum up. This is a good recording which has many virtues and makes good listening. But unfortunately it also has some serious flaws. If you look for a recording with only male voices, then you don't need to look further. The scoring makes it an interesting alternative to what is on the market. But as this interpretation doesn't fully explore the qualities of Monteverdi's music I can't put it at the top of my list.

Johan van Veen

see also review by Michael Greenhalgh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools






Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.