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More Thoughts on 1610

available at Amazon
Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers, Mass of Thanksgiving, Selva morale (excerpts), Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, Taverner Consort, A. Parrott

(released on August 25, 2009)
Virgin Classics 9 66965 2 | 5 CDs
One performance of Monteverdi's Vespers for the Most Holy Virgin in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the 1610 publication of the remarkable collection in which it is found -- see my review of the Folger Consort at Washington National Cathedral -- was certainly welcome. A second performance, scheduled at the National Gallery of Art for this evening and featuring completely mostly different musicians, is an embarrassment of riches. While my taste is inclined to a recording of the work somewhat off the beaten path (the Kammerchor Stuttgart, conducted by Frieder Bernius), many versions have a place on my shelf. The latest to join them is this re-release of the recording made in 1988 by Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort, Choir, and Players. There is much to recommend it, especially the evenness of the choral singing and the polished playing of the instrumentalists.

Although the range of styles of performance in the Vespers includes simple parts on psalm tones and so forth, it is the most virtuosic pieces that determine the success or failure of a recording. Parrott certainly succeeds with his first soprano, the legendary Emma Kirkby. She is not quite matched by Tessa Bonner, which weakens the concerto Pulchra es (she also tends sharp in the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria), while tenor Nigel Rogers has his ups and downs, making Nigra sum, in particular, less attractive because of scooping, nasal tone, and intonation trouble (Audi coelum is much more pleasant). Parrott discovered the meaning of the disparity in clefs in the notation of the Magnificat and Lauda Jerusalem, believing that it was an indication that the pitch of all parts should be lowered by a fourth. In addition, he makes some interesting choices in his realization: besides choosing the more elaborate form of the Magnificat (which almost all conductors do), he adds plainchants from the Vespers for the Assumption of the Virgin and inserts three instrumental sonatas by Giovanni Paolo Cima. Unfortunately, Parrott's way with both the chant and the falsobordone sections is leaden and over-deliberate.

The thing that does make this re-release attractive is that the Vespers is bundled with three other discs of Monteverdi's music, performed by more or less the same forces. That includes Parrott's reconstruction of a Solemn Mass on the feast of Santa Maria della Salute, in thanksgiving for deliverance from the plague, with music by Monteverdi and several other composers, a reconstruction of a Venetian Vespers with music from Selva morale e spirituale, and selections from Monteverdi's eighth book of madrigals, the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi. Among the performers, you can hear some names that became more famous later, like Rogers Covey-Crump (of the Hilliard Ensemble), lead violinist John Holloway, and flutist Lisa Beznosiuk, tenors John Mark Ainsley and Mark Padmore, and lutenist Jakob Lindberg.

The combined forces of ARTEK, the National Gallery of Art Vocal Ensemble, and the wind band Piffaro will perform the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers this evening (January 17, 6:30 pm) at the National Gallery of Art.

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