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Briefly Noted: San Marco Vespers

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Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini

(released on August 26, 2014)
Naïve OP30557 | 79'34"
Rinaldo Alessandrini has led his historically informed performance ensemble, Concerto Italiano, in fine performances of large swaths of Claudio Monteverdi's music, including Orfeo, the madrigals, and the monumental 1610 Vespers. For the group's 30th anniversary, he has made an unusual recording that is both gorgeous and of musicological significance, if rather speculative in nature. Their new disc contains one possible reconstruction of a solemn Vespers service for the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, combining various pieces by Monteverdi from the 1610 Vespers, which represents the fruit of Monteverdi's work in Mantua, and especially from the Selva morale e spirituale, a compilation of pieces made for the forces and acoustic space of San Marco, as well as one of his motet collections. One eight-part canzona by Giovanni Gabrieli and plainchant antiphons and responses from a 17th-century source of the San Marco liturgy make an appropriate nod to the glorious past of the basilica.

The only shortcoming of this reconstruction is that it was not recorded in San Marco itself, not available to the performers "for obvious reasons," according to Alessandrini's program essay. Whatever those obvious reasons may have been, the substitute space, the palatine basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua, has a gorgeous acoustic. Monteverdi's music, which trades on rapid alternations between loud and soft dynamics, full and spare textures, is captured in crisp sound, with the full blossom of those magnificent "concerto" combinations of instruments and singers. Only occasionally does Alessandrini's tendency toward extremely fast tempi trip up his singers in their melismatic passages. In physical release, the disc comes with a DVD (not reviewed) of a movie about Alessandrini's work with Concerto Italiano, directed by Claudio Rufa.

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