CAVALLI Vespero della Beata Vergine Maria
In 1675 Cavalli published a large collection of church music containing three sets of Vespers psalms and canticles, presumably the fruits of his labours at St Mark’s in Venice. The first of these was music for a Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, performed here by the Coro Claudio Monteverdi di Crema, the instrumentalists La Pifarescha and conductor Bruno Gini. Presented liturgically, antiphon plainchants lack the unified ensemble one expects from a small group of trained singers, albeit no doubt things run more smoothly than a clutch of unmusical priests might have sounded in the 17th century. When each Cavalli psalm-setting springs into life after the chants there is a sonorous grandeur and ritualistic theatricality. The large ripieno choir of more than 30 singers sounds woolly at times, and tuning can be a little uneven, but single voices organised into two cori favoriti make numerous effective contributions.
The booklet professes that the lifelike sound recording ‘has not been manipulated, equalised or dynamically altered in any way’, and a few moments like the opening of the Magnificat might have benefited from additional takes in order to get everyone in time with each other. Some antiphon substitutes and two instrumental sonatas are taken from Cavalli’s Musiche sacre concernenti messa, e salmi concertati (1656), and these are without fail the most interesting music on offer: La Pifarescha’s fluent cornetts and trombones are especially impressive in a six part sonata reminiscent of Gabrieli’s canzoni; uncredited countertenor, tenor and bass soloists sing eloquently in a very fine trio setting of Regina caeli laetare. Notwithstanding blemishes, there’s an appealing sincerity emanating from Gini’s explorations of Cavalli’s church music.