C. Monteverdi, L'Orfeo, English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, J. E. Gardiner (Archiv, 1990)
[Survey of Recordings]
Gardiner, who turned 72 on Monday, formed his Monteverdi Choir over fifty years ago to give a performance of the composer's Vespro della Beata Vergine, a masterpiece even greater than L'Orfeo. In only two cities on this tour, Gardiner will lead a performance of the so-called 1610 Vespers alongside L'Orfeo -- sadly, not including the District of Columbia. The Gardiner recording of L'Orfeo was crucial in my musical formation, but it is no longer my favorite. Likewise, while Gardiner's approach to the work has changed somewhat since that recording, made in London in 1985, this performance was good, but not necessarily great. The forces were essentially the same here as on the recording, with slight number changes in recorders, trumpets, cornetti, and theorbos: there were even a few senior players in the ensemble who took part in that landmark recording.
Anne Midgette, Gardiner leads pastoral celebration with memorable ‘Orfeo’ (Washington Post, April 23)
Janos Gereben, It's News to Me: No Hint of Aging for Orfeo (San Francisco Classical Voice, April 22)
Georgia Rowe, Monteverdi's great 'Orfeo' gets the classic John Eliot Gardiner touch (San Jose Mercury News, April 16)
The performance added up to about twenty minutes more than the length of the recording, this with no intermission and no pauses allowed for applause. The recitatives and in some cases the metered music was allowed a little more room to expand, but by and large Gardiner has stuck with his reading of Monteverdi's score, leading with a consistent and gracious hand. On the instrumental side, generally excellent, the cornetti had a bit of a rough night, right from the crucial opening Toccata, and there was an early solo violin entrance in the shepherds' scene. The addition of tambourine and drum, as well as vigorous hand clapping, enlivened many of the the choral and ballet scenes, danced by a few singers from the polished and puissant Monteverdi Choir as part of a rather successful semi-staging. The harp solo in the middle of Possente spirto was particularly fine, with harpist Gwyneth Wentink giving voice to the lyre of Orpheus.
The tour of these Monteverdi performances continues on to California (Costa Mesa and San Francisco), Princeton, and New York. The Carnegie Hall performance of the 1610 Vespers will be broadcast on WQXR (April 30). Do not miss it.