Messa a quattro voci et salmi of 1650, Vol 2
Monteverdi published two monumental collections of church music during his lifetime (in 1610 and 1641), but these must have been the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It seems that a vast amount of music composed for Venice across nearly 30 years is lost, but an assortment was printed posthumously by Alessandro Vincenti in Messa a quattro voci et salmi (1650). The Sixteen and Harry Christophers complete their two-volume survey of the entire book with impeccable performances of six Vesper psalms and the Mass for Four Voices.
The latter was recorded many moons ago by an earlier incarnation of the choir (Hyperion, 1/87), and Christophers’s approach now transmits all sorts of leaner, more sharply focused and declamatory elements – not least pivotal continuo realisations of theorbo, harp and organ firmly at the forefront and a significantly lower pitch giving the music richer sonorities. The serene Kyrie, Benedictus and Agnus Dei are contrasted with animated vigour and rhythmical impetus in the Gloria, Sanctus and Credo – this is not conventionally archaic stile antico but instead brims with declamatory rhetoric not that different from some of the extraordinary psalm settings also featured here. Pairs of solo sopranos, tenors and basses sing beguiling dialogues with violins, (uncredited) trombones and bassoon in Laetatus sum, the basses Stuart Young and Jimmy Holliday exult resonantly in Laudate Dominum (the conjectural second bass part added by Peter Holman) and Elin Manahan Thomas’s supple fluency in Confitebor tibi Domine has rapturous synergy with the violinists Simon Jones and Andrea Jones.
For good measure Christophers throws in an eloquent Salve regina by Cavalli from Musiche sacre (1656) sung by an all-male choir. According to my reckoning, this puts The Sixteen tantalisingly close to having recorded all of Monteverdi’s extant church music.