In October 1988, Jordi Savall's brand new, historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble, La Capella Reial, and the chorus of the Centro Musica Antica in Padua, directed by Livio Picotti, gave a historic performance of Claudio Monteverdi's outstanding masterpiece, the 1610 Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the Festival de l'Abbaye d'Ambronay. One month later, those forces were reunited in Mantua's Basilica Palatina di Santa Barbara, where the Vespers was likely first performed, to make this recording. It is definitely one of the better versions of this crucial work, which has received an impressive number of good recordings in recent years, in this latest re-release, remastered for SACD, now the only one available.
Monteverdi, Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610, Coro del Centro Musica Antica di Padova, La Capella Reial, Jordi Savall (remastered to SACD, January 8, 2008)
Alia Vox AVSA9855
The edition of the Vespers presented here builds on musicological theories about the origins and context of the work, connecting it to the feast of St. Barbara rather than to the cycle of the Blessed Virgin. According to the liner notes, some of the unusual texts Monteverdi selected belong to the massive double Vespers service accorded to St. Barbara in Mantua. Paola Besuti transcribed some of the antiphons for that service, which are recorded here, in one of the least pleasing components of the recording. Singing chant in parallel octaves reminds me too much of the tendency of American men in church congregations to sing everything at Mass down an octave. The singularity of the chant pieces is important, since much of the virtuosic accomplishment of the polyphonic settings is found in how Monteverdi weaves his new voices around chants and psalm tones.
There are more consistent performances (Frieder Bernius and Kammerchor Stuttgart, still my favorite) and there are more daringly virtuosic performances (Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Consort) -- both of which, not in SACD format, are about $10 cheaper at Amazon -- but this recording is a monument. On few other discs could you hear such a remarkable range of performers who are now having careers out on their own: countertenor Livio Picotti, bass Daniele Carnovich, soprano María Cristina Kiehr, Rolf Lislevand on theorbo, Paolo Pandolfo on viola da gamba, and Rinaldo Alessandrini on organ. With a work like the 1610 Vespers, which one can never tire of hearing, owning more than one performance is certainly justified.