Tuesday 12 August 2014

Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco

Concerto Italiano - Monteverdi Vespers for St Mark
Monteverdi - Vespers for the Feast of Saint Mark; Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano; Naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 29 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative reconstruction using music from Monteverdi's Selva Morale

This new disc on Naive from Concerto Italiano and Rinaldo Alessandrini creates a possible Vespers service for the Feast of Saint Mark at the Basilica of St Mark in Venice, using material published by Claudio Monteverdi during his time there. The Psalms, Hymn and Magnificat come from the Selva Morale. The repeats of the antiphons are replaced by motets by Monteverdi and instrumental sonatas, whilst the antiphons themselves are taken from the liturgy in use in St Mark's at the time.

Monteverdi's Selva morale e spirituale was a large collection of liturgical works published in 1640, anthologising the music which Monteverdi had written for St. Mark's since 1613 and reflecting the high standard of music at the Basilica under Monteverdi. The style of the pieces is mainly the modern style (small groups of solo voices accompanied by instruments), reflecting Monteverdi's brief when he joined to modernise and reform the choir and expand the instrumental ensemble.

On this disc Alessandrini assembles the psalm settings from the Selva Morale to create Vespers for St Mark's patronal feast, always an important occasion. The best known amongst these is the well known Beatus Vir, but the other psalm settings Dixit Dominus, Confitebor tibi domine, Laudate pueri, Laudate dominum are just as engaging, and they perform the Magnificat Primo a 8 with their own completion of the missing alto and bass parts in the second choir.

For major feasts, the antiphons before each psalm were repeated afterwards and in the 17th century these repeats were commonly replaced by music, which is what is done here (and which Monteverdi's seems to have done in his Vespers of 1610).  Alessandrini uses a mixture of instrumental music by Gabrieli, Usper and Buonamente, plus motets by Monteverdi, Christe adoramus te and Cantate Domino.

The disc was recorded in the Basilica Santa Barbara in Mantua (where Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 was probably written to be performed). Alessandrini uses one singer to a part, taking the singers from an ensemble of eight altogether. The instrumental forces are similarly small, with 2 violins, two cornets, viola da gamba, violine, four sackbuts, archlute, two theorbos and organ.

Alessandrini keeping the music fluid and fluent. What is noticeable about the performance is the lightness of the textures and the transparency, this is not massive music, though there are occasions of massiveness. In his CD booklet, Alessandrini talks about Monteverdi moving away from the idea of a static expression of the Divinity to one which showed God and his church triumphing through splendour and abundance, witness the extrovert and virtuoso passages. The singers combine superb consort singing with a spectacular grasp of the more bravura virtuoso moments.

This is a highly engaging and intelligent disc. As always, Alessandrini and his forces combine superb musicianship with musicology and a sense of engagement which makes listening to the recording a great pleasure. It is lovely to see the music performed in context, rather than as a solid block. You do not have to follow the Vespers service, you can simply put the CD in the player and sit back, but this is the sort of music making where intelligent engagement helps.

The box set also comes with a DVD, The Human and the Divine about the recording of the disc the Basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua. The film, lasting just under an hour, includes footage of Alessandrini talking about the music, performances in the Basilica including a complete performance of the Magnificat and other scenes such as trying out some 17th century food whilst talking about Monteverdi and his music. There is also footage of Alessandrini wandering around Mantua and the surviving elements of the Gonzaga Ducal Palace to the sound of Monteverdi's music, all very atmospheric but also rather a lovely way to see the city.

The disc represents not only a celebration of Concerto Italiano's 30th anniversary but the first volume of Alessandrini's planned complete recording of Monteverdi's Selva Morale. Personally I can think of no better celebration, and cannot wait for the next volume.

Responsorium: Deus in adiutorium
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Domine ad adiuvandum me festina (Vespers of 1610)
Antiphon: Egregius Christi Petrus apostolus
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Dixit Dominus (Selva Morale)
Giovanni Gabrieli (1554 - 1612) - Canzon ottava a 8
Antiphon: Doctrinam apostolicam evangeliste marco committens
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Contifebor tibi domine (Selva Morale)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Christe adoramus te (Bianchi, Libro primo dei motetti, 1620)
Antiphon: Ad hec disponente dei gratia
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Beatus vir (Selva Morale)
Francesco Usper (1561 - 1641) - Sonata a 8
Antiphon: Beate Sancte Marce
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Laudate Pueri (Selva Morale)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Cantate domino (Bianchi, Libro primo dei motetti, 1620)
Antiphon: Sancte Evangelist Marce
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Laudate dominum (Selva Morale)
Giovanni Battista Buonamente (1595 - 1642) - Sonata a 6 per violino, cornetto tre trombini et liuto tiorbato
Hymn: Athleta Christi belliger
Verse: Pulchra facie et alari vultu
Responsorium: Deprecare, pastor bone
Antiphon: Post angelicam allocutionem
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Magnificat Primo a 8 (Selva Morale)
Concerto Italiano
Rinaldo Alessandrini (director)
Recorded December 2013 at the Basilica Santa Barbara, Mantua

L'umano e il suo divino: Alessandrini dirige Monteverdi
A film by Claudio Rufa
NAIVE OP30557 1 CD, 1 DVD

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