Notes and Editorial Reviews
This performance of the Vespers barely needs any introduction, so familiar has it become during the past ten years. However remote the interpretation may be from anything that Monteverdi himself might have envisaged, few would deny that in general the reading is unusually perceptive and intelligent, and it's hard not to be impressed by its sumptuously festive quality. In his changes of speeds and distribution of material to his singers and players, Gardiner of course goes far beyond the letter of Monteverdi's score; and unlike Parrott's carefully researched version, his performance sounds more like a universal affirmation of faith than a reconstruction of an actual liturgical act from early seventeenth-century Italy. At times one might wish for greater economy and wit, especially in the solo motets. 'Duo seraphim", for example, is imperious rather than ethereal, and "Audi caelum" becomes almost a theatrical exchange instead of the fantastical dialogue that Monteverdi must surely have intended it to be. But these are all part of Gardiner's personal vision of the work, and it's to his credit that the music stands up so very well to such a treatment.
The list of soloists speaks for itself: it is a superb team, well supported by the Monteverdi Choir and the various instrumental ensembles. However inauthentically, imaginative use has been made of both distance and spatial distribution within the stereo spread, and music seems to come from every corner of the building. Purists no doubt will continue to attack it, but there is no escaping the fact that this is an enduring version of the Vespers, and I'm sure many listeners will welcome it back into the catalogue.
-- J.M., Gramophone [2/1986] Reviewing earlier release of Vespro della Beata Vergine