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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespri Solennes per la Festa di San Marco
Domine ad adiuvandum me festina [2:27]
Egregius Christi petrus apostolus [0:32]
Dixit Dominus [9:27]
Sonata in loco antiphonae: Canzon ottava a 8 [5:40]
Doctrinam apostolicam evangeliste Marco committens [0:35]
Confitebor tibi Domine [4:42]
Motectus in loco antiphonae: Christe adoramus te [3:31]
Ad hec disponente dei gratia [0:47]
Beatus vir [7:46]
Sonata in loco antiphonae: Sonata a 8 [4:03]
Beate sancte Marce [0:21]
Laudate pueri [7:01]
Motectus in loco antiphonae: Cantate Domino [2:11]
Sancte evangelista Marce [0:35]
Laudate Dominum [3:38]
Sonata in loco antiphonae: Sonata a 6 [3:41]
Athleta Christi belliger (Travestimento di Deus tuorum militum) [2:39]
Pulchra facie et alacri vultu / Deprecare pastor bone [2:41]
Post angelicam allocutionem [1:26]
Magnificat [15:56]
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Bonus DVD: L'umano e il suo divino - Alessandrini conducts Monteverdi
rec. CD: Basilica Santa Barbara, Mantua, December 2013
NAOVE OP30577 [CD: 79:46; DVD: 51:56]

Monteverdi left no score for the Marcian Vespers, so what Alessandrini gives us here is a reconstruction; but what a reconstruction. He details some of his meticulous research in a very accessible booklet note which puts the music on this disc into context and explains some of the choices he made. One of the key things that influenced him was the way Monteverdi would use the acoustic space of St Mark's Basilica to increase the dramatic impact of his work, something that has already been demonstrated on several occasions, including, most notably, Gardiner's seminal recording of the Vespers of 1610. Alessandrini uses the space of Mantua's basilica of Santa Barbara  itself a place of historical significance for Monteverdi's pre-Venice days  to perfectly judged effec. He eschews acoustic separation, saying that it's only really effective if you're listening in situ, but brings out the fresh, exciting aspects of Monteverdi's musical drama. The opening Deus in adiutorium, for example, hits the listener right in the solar plexus with its bright, resonant brass interacting with the fresh, clean singing of the small choir: only two voices per part. Size seems to matter little here, though: Alessandrini has drilled his players so successfully that they carry all the power of a chorus at full steam combined with the virtuosity of a quartet. They sound particularly sprightly in Cantate Domino, which concludes with a marvellously resonant finish, revelling in the textures and the echo.

Alessandrini reveals his skill with this music by realising all of it with just the right amount of atmosphere, allowing it to come alive. The Confitebor, for example, has a real spirit of the dance to it, as does the famous Beatus Vir, which finishes with a pleasingly resonant tutti. There is never drama for its own sake, though, but to eke out the musical as well as the spiritual impact of the text. Christe adoramus te has an air of poignant supplication to it.

The wind instruments, so important to the concept are brilliantly played, with bright, laughing cornetts and dark, chewy trombones underpinning the whole texture poverty effectively. The sonata a 8 (track 10) shows them off particularly well.

The disc culminates in a glorious performance of the concluding Magnificat, which sees everyone at their best. The chorus are the embodiment of clarity and precision, with a marvellous bite at Fecit potentiam, and the different instrumental groups, both strings and brass, give of their all while Alessandrini shapes the various sections and multiple tempi with a very convincing sense of direction and musical purpose.

There is also a DVD included in the package, but its not much to write home about. In fact, its a rather random assortment containing some useful things, such as seeing them play the music in Santa Barbara, and some very peculiar things, such as a discussion about 17th century cuisine and lots of shots of Alessandrini looking thoughtful while walking slowly around the possible locations of the first performance of Orfeo. Never mind that: buy this for the CD which is, in short, a marvellous achievement, and an exciting addition to the discographies of both Alessandrini and Monteverdi himself.

Simon Thompson