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Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 in 2010

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Read my review published today on the Washington Post Web site:

Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers:
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La Capella Reial / Savall

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Gabrieli Consort / McCreesh

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King's Consort / King

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Kammerchor Stuttgart / Bernius
Charles T. Downey, Folger celebrates a Monteverdi anniversary
Washington Post, January 11, 2010
On Saturday night the Folger Consort celebrated the 400th anniversary of the 1610 publication of Claudio Monteverdi's "Mass and Vespers for the Most Holy Virgin," with a performance of the Vespers portion at Washington National Cathedral. Monteverdi brought together pieces composed at different times and in every conceivable combination and style to form an encyclopedic work. Even the foremost authority on the piece, Jeffrey G. Kurtzman, has admitted that there is no one "authentic" performance: It was meant to have many possible realizations.

This one used historical instruments, heard at their strongest as an ensemble in the sprightly "Sonata sopra Sancta Maria," especially the brilliant cornetto playing of Mack Ramsey and Kiri Tollaksen. The cathedral's crossing vibrated with the sound of all 14 players in an instrumental canzona by Giovanni Gabrieli, inserted into the work before the concluding "Magnificat" (the one for seven voices with instruments, not the six-voice alternate usually omitted in performance). In lieu of a conductor, lead violinist Julie Andrijeski and organist Webb Wiggins got a workout in knee bending and head bobbing to keep the ensemble together. [Continue reading]
Monteverdi, Vespro della Beata Vergine
Folger Consort
Washington National Cathedral

For more information, see Jeffrey G. Kurtzman, The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610:

Vespers was performed with great pomp and large musical forces on special feast days in many places in Renaissance/Baroque, but Monteverdi's "is by far the most elaborate version to have been printed in the early seventeenth century." The pieces that set texts known in the liturgy all set a cantus firmus, while most of the virtuosic solo pieces do not. Monteverdi specified instruments in only three sections: the opening versicle, the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, and the 7-voice version of the Magnificat (with six instrumental lines). The ensemble specified requires, we think, 2 violins, 3 violas, bass violin, doublebass; 2 cornetti, 3 trombones (in various combinations), plus 2 transverse flutes and 2 recorders (for Magnificat).

Kurtzman also notes the following about the continuo practice: "There is a widespread misconception that any bass line in 17th-century music, even the bass lines of monodies and few-voiced compositions, should be doubled by a bass string instrument (although it did happen sometimes in San Marco and other places). While such doubling was a more common practice in the 18th century, it was not typical of the Seicento." In other words, the voice should be paramount, and the bass line should not draw attention to itself.

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