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Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine
Claudio Monteverdi, John Eliot Gardiner, Michael Chance
Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (4) - Disc #2

John Eliot Gardiner's 1974 recording of Monteverdi's extraordinary Vespers of 1610 was a landmark, helping establish the modern reputations of both music and conductor. In 1989, to celebrate the silver anniversary of his M...  more »


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John Eliot Gardiner's 1974 recording of Monteverdi's extraordinary Vespers of 1610 was a landmark, helping establish the modern reputations of both music and conductor. In 1989, to celebrate the silver anniversary of his Monteverdi Choir (named in honor of this work), he recorded the cycle again--this time live in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. He made use of resources he didn't have 15 years earlier, like period instruments and, for soloists, a mix of early-music specialists (Ann Monoyios and Michael Chance) and opera singers (the young Bryn Terfel). As a bonus, he recorded both the standard version of the Magnificat for voices and instruments and Monteverdi's published alternative setting for six voices and organ. Gardiner gives a vigorous, theatrical, yet very detailed account of this music, caressing some phrases, thundering out others, using lots of carefully judged crescendos and decrescendos. On its terms, it works, thanks largely to the wondrous Monteverdi Choir, which can do anything asked of it. But there seems little of the sacred in the performance and almost nothing of the spontaneous or natural--the carefully calibrated effects can come across as overdetermined. In his booklet essay, Gardiner makes quite a point of his fidelity to the published score, yet he liberally adds instruments to double the voices, and he takes an odd liberty with the much-loved duet-trio "Duo seraphim": at the close of each half of the motet, at the words "plena est omnis terra," he has the tenors of his chorus take over from his soloists. If you're uncomfortable with that sort of thing, go for Andrew Parrott's marvelous one-singer-per-part performance or (for those who want a full chorus) for the version of William Christie or that of René Jacobs; if these additions don't faze you and you want a high-powered, adrenaline-rush performance, you'll find it here. --Matthew Westphal

CD Reviews

M. Friedman | New York Area | 09/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is simply an extraordinary performance from both a documentary and aesthetic perspective.Recorded at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, where Monteverdi was composer-in-residence from 1613, the sound quality is outstanding. I've heard so many choral performances recorded in Renaissance churches that sound lost and empty. The engineers have done something special here -- they have produced a disc that SOUNDs like what I imagine a performance of the Vespers would have sounded to Monteverdi's ears.The performances themselves are about the best I have heard from the Monteverdis and the soloists. Not one voice sounds out of harmony or rhythm, and not one instrument sounds a false not. That is almost unheard of in a live recording.I'm not sure that this is the definitive recording of this work, but I haven't heard many that have come close. Frankly, though the one-voice-per-part approach favoured by some HIP ensembles would be totally inappropriate. Venice wanted its music BIG and that's how Monteverdi wrote it."
Absolutely marvellous!
M. Friedman | 12/09/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Monteverdi's Vespers is one of my favourite musical works and it constantly astounds me that something written nearly 500 years ago can reach out across the centuries and "grab" one. I have about 6 different versions. I must confess that I go for the "grand" interpretation, as opposed to the "devotional" interpretation (e.g., Parrott). Of all the "grand" versions I've heard, this reigns supreme. Gardiner has probably done more than any other conductor to bring this work into the central repertoire, to take its rightful place alongside the B Minor Mass and "Messiah", so it's not surprising. Recorded in St,Mark's Cathedral, Venice (one historical theory says that this is where it was performed) with a small band of singers and players, the feeling and committment of the ensemble really hits you. In particular, the totally appropriately-named Monteverdi choir sing brilliantly. A colossal achievement! Somebody's going to have to work darn hard to better it!"
Monteverdi's stunning resume piece
ewomack | MN USA | 10/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"What a job application. Looking for work around 1610, Claudio Monteverdi composed this massive work in hopes of Vatican employment. He even dedicated it to his anticipated future boss, Pope Paul V - kissing up has a long tradition in the Western world. Inexplicably, the Vatican wasn't moved. Instead, Monteverdi accepted the patronage of the Doge in Venice and became their Maestro di Capella in 1613. Whether or not this masterpiece ever received a public performance during his life remains controversial amongst music historians. Either way, it must have suitably padded his already impressive resume. So Monteverdi's arguably most famous work originated from a job search. Stranger things have happened.

"Vespro Della Beata Vergine" or "Vespers of 1610" follows the Roman Catholic structure for evening mass as laid out in the liturgical canonical hours (also known as "Vespers"; "Vesper" means "evening" in Latin). The first CD opens with the traditional chanted versicle (Deus in adiutorium meum intende, etc.) and suddenly explodes with a riveting choir belting out the doxology (Gloria Patri et Filio). Accompanying instrumentation adds to the effect. This work truly starts with an unforgettable bang. This helps emphasize the oft-repeated doxology (all of the succeeding Psalms conclude with this same stanza). Next, the work alternates between five Psalms and four Concertos, then continues with a sontata, a hymn, and finishes with an enthralling "Magnificat." Though the work's title explictly references the Virgin Mary, only two pieces revolve around her. Subsequently, some scholars have argued that this work could get structured around any Saint, and Monteverdi simply chose the Virgin Mary as a marketing ploy for the Vatican. Not only that, others dispute the location of the more secular Concertos. Two of these, "Nigra Sum" and "Pulchra Es" from "Song of Solomon", were probably a little saucy for religious works of the day. The ordering here follows the original manuscript.

Amazing music pervades these CDs. "Dixit Dominus" opens with ethereal singing, suggesting drifting angels or the clouds slowly parting. Then it fulminates like thunder as the choir sings the words of God: "Sit at my right hand, and I shall make of your enemies a footstool for you." "Laetatus sum" begins with a simple walking harpsichord line that recurs (one of Monteverdi's ritornellos), develops into dizzying choral arrangements, and concludes with a devastating "Amen." Though dancing probably wasn't intended, "Nisi Dominus" provides a sprightly enough rhythm to inspire any lazy feet, all the way to its final gentle resolution. "Ave maris stella" provides by far the most moving choral piece of the set. Ineffably ethereal notes levitate on air for nearly nine minutes. The final Magnificat remains stunning beyond words. This set includes two versions: one for seven parts and one for six.

John Eliot Gardiner was accused of taking liberties with Monteverdi's score. Apparently he embellished instrumentation and added voices for emphasis. Some even accused him of siphoning the sacred from the music. In other words, as Monteverdi straddled the Reniassance and the Baroque, this 1989 recording tips the scales in favor of highly charged Baroque. Those looking for a passionate interpretation of "Vespers" will find it here. Regardless, this release caused a surge in Gardiner's reputation as well as bolstering the then nascent authentic instrument movement. He could not have chosen a better recording locale: the gape-inducing Byzantine style St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. Monteverdi's old stomping ground.

Monteverdi still doesn't have the name recognition of a Mozart or a Beethoven. Nonetheless, recordings such as this one doubtlessly helped direct attention to the once forgotten modernizer of Reniassance music. Recently, Monteverdi's name has experienced a rebirth. Many consider his "L'Orfeo" as the beginning of popular opera and his madrigals as the origin of modern song arrangement. His "Vespers" alone, sometimes equated to Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" and often called his most impressive work, should more than solidfy his name in the history of Western music for some time to come."