MONTEVERDI Vespro della Beata Vergine • Robert Howarth, dir; O and Ch of the Age of Enlightenment • SIGNUM SIGCD 237 (2 CDs: 97:07 Text and Translation)
It took some time, but we are getting the fruits of the observance of the quatercentenary of publication of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers, the largest musical work (arguably so) published up to that time. This project started out for a new record label of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, following a series of touringRead more performances, but in the end was issued by Signum, which had just issued another version recently (Fanfare 32:1). It is a presentation of the usual 13 movements, omitting the alternate Magnificat but adding Exultent caeli (1629), recorded by Roberto Gini among others, as an antiphon substitute before the Magnificat. There is also a sonata by G. B. Fontana to conclude the program, but nothing else is added or rearranged. The complement of 22 singers and 16 players is close to average. Lauda Jerusalem and the Magnificat are transposed down a fourth.
While Signum’s juxtaposition of this version with Ralph Allwood’s suggests that they are alternative choices, the reality is not that easy. Allwood’s is described as one voice to a part, while this one is characterized as choral, but there is not that much difference. Each uses 22 singers, beefing up the climactic passages with choral voices and assigning solos where appropriate. The instrumental ensembles are virtually identical, the cornets and sackbuts sounding more prominently here. Howarth’s version ranks with the best of the recent recordings. For an all-solo version (12 singers, 18 players), I recommend Rinaldo Alessandrini (28:4); for a choral interpretation with the complete 1610 publication, Masaaki Suzuki (25:2) is the clear choice; Jordi Savall (31:5), adding antiphons for the feast of St. Barbara, has Super Audio and the venue of the basilica in Mantua to enhance an exquisite performance. Just below that exalted level are many fine performances, including this one.