Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent present a highly accomplished version of one of the masterpieces of seventeenth-century sacred music. Composed shortly after L’Orfeo and dedicated to Pope Paul V, Monteverdi’s Vespers constantly surprise us with their audacity and their great emotional power. Stile antico and stile moderno combine here to wonderful effect, with Renaissance-style polyphony, accompanied monody and concertato style coexisting harmoniously.
There are more than one dozen recordings of Monteverdi's great masterpiece, the Vespers of 1610, a distinction reserved for very few works and composers from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. With this kind of attention, you'd think that this substantial work for choir, soloists, and instruments would be more easily accessible–but it is in fact a structurally complex and musically intricate compilation of hymns, antiphons, and psalms, concluding with a magnificent setting of the Magnificat. Most recordings can't seem to overcome the strategic and technical problems of presenting such a three-dimensional work on a recording. But this one is different: the music literally comes alive and grabs our attention. If you're in the market for Monteverdi's Vespers, look no further. This is the most dynamic, dramatic version on disc.
“This large-scale live recording (Gardiner's second) was made in Venice's St Mark's Basilica. It captures the drama as well as the ceremonial aspect of the work, despite sometimes cloudy recorded sound.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide. “Gardiner's second [recording of the Vespers], spectacularly recorded live in St Mark's, has a punchy choral sound, near-operatic solo singing (Bryn Terfel and Alistair Miles are among the basses), emphatic enunciation, big contrasts and deliberate exploitation of the building's spaces. Its outright theatricality sets it apart from other performances.” Gramophone Magazine.
Rinaldo Alessandrini's brilliantly realized recording of Monteverdi's Vespers is an intimate, slightly pared down version of the early Baroque masterpiece. Working in the warm acoustic of Rome's Palazzo Farnese, he employs just one singer per part, and eliminates instrumental doublings in the choral movements except where they are expressly indicated. The result is a compact, richly haloed sound that won't ever knock you out of your chair, but which flatters the more intimate solo and duet movements that can sound anemic in grander productions; with the sound gap between the biggest and smallest movements closed, each holds its own within the overall structure of the piece…
This is one of the best of the contemporary recordings of the Vespers, with an 'Italian' sound which is far more appropriate to the music than its 'Northern' competitors. It captures some of the ecstatic quality of the music, but is no match for the old Corboz Erato recording (reissued on CD and perhaps still available) with Tappy and Cuenod, which, in spite of its faults, is in a league of its own in this music.