This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
You may be wondering if this is quite the right moment for yet another version of the Monteverdi Vespers. At least one projected recording has been postponed because the market appears to have been overloaded in the past few years. But Philip Pickett's performance answers that question. It is individual; it is carefully considered; it is often breathtakingly exciting; and in some ways it may be the work's best recording so far.
Going to one extreme, Pickett uses solo voices for all the polyphony, thus producing a version even more slimline than Andrew Parrott's on EMI. There is plenty of room for argument about the sort of forces that Monteverdi could have had in mind: several passages—for example in Laudate Dominum and Audi
coelum—seem to cry out for a massive chorus, though I have the sense that historical probability sides with Pickett. What is clear, though—in this recording just as much as in Parrott's—is that keeping the forces down gives you several distinct advantages: textures immediately become clearer, giving more value to the details of Monteverdi's music; all that messing with quirky orchestration becomes unnecessary; and flexibility is much easier to achieve, as is Monteverdi's muscular vitality.
Following Parrott's effectively watertight arguments, this performance moves to a pitch-standard a fourth lower for the Lauda Jerusalem and the Magnificat. This works rather less well (just as it does for Parrott, and Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi), largely because it brings some passages into a register where it is very difficult for the singers to work expressively. The reason for that, as most people now seem to agree, is that Monteverdi was probably starting from a pitch-standard about a minor third higher than the A =440 used in all recordings of the work so far. Unfortunately the cost and difficulty of getting 'original' instruments at that pitch level are still insuperable, which is a pity. (I would think that an appropriate pitch is worth more than appropriate instruments, but most people seem to disagree at the moment.)
These movements are by no means unconvincing: they are simply less clear and compelling than on the Gardiner-1986 Decca and 1991 Archiv Produktion—versions (and, going further back, those of Harnoncourt on Teldec/Warner Classics and the 1983 Corboz, which is scheduled for reissue in the near future). Moreover, Pickett compensates with one simple change to the printed sequence of movements, by ending with the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria. In several other ways that seems an excellent and intelligent solution.
But the main reason I shall keep returning to this recording is the singers, who may represent the strongest lineup yet for the Vespers. There's not a weak link anywhere. Particular excitement here lies on two fronts. First the tenors. Andrew King does a marvellous Nigra sum, getting the excitement, the wonder and even the ecstasy of the piece; John Mark Ainsley is equally well suited to the more majestic Audi caching; and the two join with Rufus Willer in what must be the most satisfying recorded version of Duo Seraphim. (I'll swear thay have even managed to synchronize their goat-trills.)
Then the sopranos. At first blush, Catherine Bott and Tessa Bonner would seem an improbable pair, with strikingly different voices and musicianship. But that contrast immediately works to tremendous effect in the Dixit Dominus. Later they achieve magic in Pulchra es: initially it seems far too fast and likely to be the least seductive of all the available versions; but then they make splendidly flexible use of the resulting clearer design, and in the last paragraph they just hit you between the eyes. If you are sampling the disc, don't miss their glorious, and again unusual, duets in the Esurientes. It is their success, incidentally, that contributes most to making the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria such a satisfying close.
-- Gramophone [3/1991]
Works on This Recording
Vespro della Beata Vergine by Claudio Monteverdi
Catherine Bott (Soprano),
Tessa Bonner (Soprano),
Nigel Robson (Tenor),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor),
Michael George (Bass),
Clifford Grant (Bass)
New London Consort
Written: by 1610; Mantua, Italy
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