Monteverdi Vespers

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Claudio Monteverdi

Label: EMI

Media Format: Vinyl

Media Runtime: 0

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: EX270129-3

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Vespro della Beata Vergine, 'Vespers' Claudio Monteverdi, Composer
Andrew Parrott, Conductor
Claudio Monteverdi, Composer
Taverner Choir
Taverner Consort
Taverner Players

Composer or Director: Claudio Monteverdi

Label: EMI

Media Format: Cassette

Media Runtime: 0

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: EX270129-5

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Vespro della Beata Vergine, 'Vespers' Claudio Monteverdi, Composer
Andrew Parrott, Conductor
Claudio Monteverdi, Composer
Taverner Choir
Taverner Consort
Taverner Players
The technical and interpretative problems of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 are legion. Should the entire volume be performed as an entity, or just the psalms, or perhaps a mixture of psalms and motets? Since the vocal lines in the original publication are heavily ornamented, does this preclude the addition of further embellishment after the manner of contemporary instruction books? Which portions should be sung chorally (and how large should such a 'choir' be?), and which by the soloists? How should the continuo be realized? Many of these difficulties stem from the ambiguities of the original publication of the Vespers which remains the source from which all modern performing editions must be made. Others are caused by uncertainties surrounding seventeeth-century liturgical practice. In both these areas this new recording offers new ideas.
Firstly the liturgy. The central controversy raised by the Vespers concerns five non-liturgical compositions inserted among the Marian psalms, hymn and Manificat: Nigra sum, Pulchra es, Duo Seraphim, Audi coelum and the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria. These, the sacred concerti described on the title-page as ''suitable for the chapels or private chambers of princes'', do not conform textually to any known Marian office but occur in Monteverdi's collection in positions normally occupied by psalm antiphons. These apparent contradictions have led some editors to suggest that they should not be performed as part of the Vespers. More convincing is the view, followed here, that the concerti are substitutes for the antiphons missing from Monteverdi's collections. And this view is taken even further by seeing them as antiphon-repeats and inserting plainchant for the missing first strain. This is done for three of the psalms; for the remaining two contemporary instrumental sonatas by Giovanni Paolo Cima are performed. One effect is to make this version feel more unified, more monumental.
Both physically and emotionally the concerti are presented here as the focal points of the Vespers, the jewels in the crown. Certainly they are the occasion for some of the most spectacular singing on this recording. The essential ingredient here is the performance of Nigel Rogers, surely the most accomplished and convincing singer of the early seventeenth-century Italian virtuoso repertory to be found anywhere. Now only shortly after his stunning interpretation of Orfeo in another Reflexe release (reviewed on page 1382) comes his persuasive and seemingly effortless performances in three of the concerti in his highly characteristic melifluous, dramatic yet perfectly controlled manner. In two cases, Audi coelum and Duo Seraphim, he is well matched with Andrew King and Joseph Cornwell. By comparison Pulchra es, sung by Tessa Bonner and Emma Kirkby, seems rather understated, certainly too much so for this deliberately and deliciously ambiguous text.
One important feature of Andrew Parrott's interpretation is its fundamental conception, historically accurate, of the Vespers as chamber work rather than a 'choral' one. Thus only one instrument is used per part, the harpsichord is employed very sparingly, and the basic continuo group is restricted to organ and chitarrone. Following the same principle, one voice per part is taken as the norm. The result is a clarity of texture, evident from the opening bars, which allows correct tempos to be used without stifling the often intricate rhythmic features of the writing. Nisi Dominus, for example, is taken at a lively speed but does not end up sounding rushed as so often happens. Lauda Jerusalem proceeds at a jaunty pace without loss of detail, and Laetatus sum sounds stately without being leaden-footed. That these effects can be achieved is largely due to decisions about the size and balance of forces.
Finally, I should mention another fundamental choice which represents something of a novelty. Both Lauda Jerusalem and the Magnificat are transposed down a fourth here, as indeed they should be according to the convention relating to the clef combinations in which they were originally notated. This brings all the vocal parts into the tessitura of the rest of the work, and also restores the instruments to their normal ranges. Whether or not the result is less 'exciting' than the version we are used to hearing has only partly to do with questions of musicality. For the rest, in this respect as in others one of the lasting virtues of this well-balanced, unobtrusive recording is that it allows us to hear the Vespers sounding something along the lines that Monteverdi intended.'

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