Thursday 3 July 2014

Monteverdi Vespro della beata Vergine

Mohnteverdi Vespers of 1610 - Leonardo Garcia Alarcon, Ambronay Editions
Monteverdi Vespro della beata Vergine - Vespers of 1610; Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo Garcia Alarcon; Ambronay Editions
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 27 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Lithe and vibrant new recording, with some dazzling performances at terrific speed.

This new recording of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 was recorded in the abbey of Ambronay and involved the Choeur de Chambre de Namur, instrumentalists from Cappella Mediterranea plus soloists Celine Scheen, Mariana Flores, Fabian Schofrin, Fernando Guimaraes, Zachary Wilder, Matteo Bellotto, Victor Torres and Sergio Foresti, all directed by Leonardo Garcia Alarcon. The two CD set is issued on Ambronay's own label, Ambronay Editions.

Monteverdi's 1610 publication as tantalised performers and commentators. There is little context for the music, was it written for Mantua or Venice (the CD booklet here argues for Mantua), and what liturgy was it written for. The various vocal concertos are assumed to be designed to act as replacements for the antiphons in a grand vespers liturgy where psalm antiphons would normally be performed twice, before and after the psalm. The problem comes because, the various psalm tones on which Monteverdi based his psalm settings are quite clear. However no-one has yet come up with a particular liturgy which uses them. The solution is often to omit any of the plainchant antiphons and treat the work as a concert work.

On this disc, Alarcon has decided to present the work as a liturgical piece with the plainchant antiphons. The performers solution to the psalm tone problem has been to compose their own pastiche antiphons based on the correct tones. A novel solution and one that, as far as I can tell, works.

This is a bright and lithe performance, with Alarcon's speeds often lively but he is matched by his performers who turn in finely crafted performances. The Chamber Choir of Namur numbers 21 singers and they are superb in their coping with Alarcon's speeds whilst giving a lithe and finely controlled performance.  (Alarcon is in fact their musical director). The opening has to be heard to be believed and is thrilling and exuberant. But in other places, the choir are beautifully madrigalian in their responses. Alarcon keeps things supple and moving, so that even using larger forces he has a light feel to the work.

All performers are highly responsive and there is some very fine playing on the disc. Solo performances are similarly impressive, with some highly technically adept vocal solos. The concertos often have quite an intimate feel, and the soloists are nicely fluid in their feel for Monteverdi's line and for the words. All the soloists have fine grained, slim-line voices with a degree of intensity of tone. I can't be too specific because the booklet does not seem allocate the solos individually.

The plainchant antiphons are sung by a separate group (directed by Lionel Desmeules), vibrant in tone and clearly inspired by the work of Marcel Peres; nothing at all like modern polite chant singing. And having Monteverdi's music performed in the liturgical context certainly works for me.

There is one curiosity, which does not seem to addressed in the booklet. Despite the careful academic thought which has gone into the performance, they perform the Magnificat at the high pitch which people generally agree is wrong. It does, however, sound wonderful and the performers manage magnificently with superb high cornet playing, plus a fabulous bass duet.

Philip Pickett, on his recording with the New London Consort, takes 91:28 as compared to Alarcon's 87:29 for the whole work, even though Alarcon is including the plainchant antiphons and Pickett isn't. And Pickett doesn't hang around. Not everyone will like Alarcon's speeds, but frankly I loved it.

This performance has litheness, vibrancy and madrigalian dancing quality which make it highly appealing. No one recording of this work will ever quite satisfy, but there is much to enjoy here. That we can take for granted superb playing, virtuoso singing and historically informed techniques is a tribute to the development of a performing tradition in this music. That we can sit back and enjoy them here, is a tribute to Alarcon's skill at welding his forces into a fine whole.

The video is of the live performance given in Ambronay in 2013, the music doesn't start until 7:40.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Vespro dell beata Vergine (1610) [87.29]
Celine Scheen (soprano)
Mariana Flores (soprano)
Fabian Schofin (counter-tenor)
Fernando Guimaraes (tenor)
Zachary Wilder (tenor)
Matteo bellotto (baritone)
Victor Torres (baritone)
Sergio Foresti (bass)
Choeur de Chambre de Namur
Capella Mediterranea
Leonardo Garcia Alarcon (director)
Recorded in the abbey church of Ambronay, France - 7 to 12 Sept 2013.
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