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Monteverdi Vespers of 1610

The Rodolfus Choir/Southern Sinfonia/The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble/Ralph Allwood

Signum CD 109 [November 2007]

One of the great masterworks of the 17th or any century, the Vespers remains a little controversial and interpretation will never be set in concrete.

Allwood and Signum do it proud, especally for internet afficionados, with the entire booklet on line (texts with English translations, lists of all participants and an introduction by Clifford Bartlett - Editor of EMR & of his scholarly King's Music revised Edition 1990, used in this latest of the many recordings available).

The Vespers makes for compelling listening, since the early days and the indelible memory of an early London performance conducted by Walter Goehr (1954) and it has fascinated me ever since.

This version (connected with the Eton Choral Courses) does not boast "big names" but has an attractive overall feel from the youthful The Rodolfus Choir. I'm not clear why Monteverdi allocated Nigra sum ("I am a black but beatiful daughter - - ") is allocated to a tenor and Pulchra es ("You are beautiful, my love, a sweet and comely daughter") to sopranos, as the score kindly provided makes clear he did?

The sound from the recording at Eton College Chapel (April 2007) is fine, and it deserves a place in your Vespers collection.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also DVD review originally published in Classical Net:

Coro Della Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Ensemble More Antiquo
I Barocchisti
Concerto Palatino/Diego Fasolis
ARTS DVD 47609-9 97mins

This version of Monteverdi's Vespers from Italian Switzerland was well received on CD; it is interesting to have it now on DVD.

The Televisione Svizzera Italiana-TSI film has an unpretentious quality, homely and devotional. It preserves a live performance at the St. Lorenzo Cathedral in Lugano. Sub-titles are limited to the those of the items, but complete words with translations are given in the better-than-average booklet, and individual items can be called up from the menu.

There is always a problem with filmed concerts; visual content is limited and static, so cameramen often roam around churches for eye-catching images too restlessly. Not so here. The views here are fairly basic, but perfectly satisfactory; I was unsure at first about their reliance on extreme close ups - do we need to see sweat pouring under TV lights or to be shown that one of the tenor soloists wears a deaf-aid? Gradually you do get used to it and almost come to feel that you know the singers and players as individuals - the solo singers are clearly identified with initials against the tracks.

This experience with DVD is more like being at the concert itself than is the case with more sophisticated productions; you follow the words in the programme (well worth doing so with Monteverdi, whose expressiveness is closely related to the text), sometimes look up to watch the performers on screen, but not all the time. I liked this.

The music is amazing, and marvellously varied, drawing on secular and dramatic elements alongside elaborate polyphony. This is a well prepared 'historically informed' performance with the members of Concerto Palatino & I Barocchisti on authentic instruments; no great voices, but good, idiomatic singing and playing under the inspiring conductor, Diego Fasolis.

The sound is suitably reverberant, but I found I needed to switch off my extra speakers and rely upon straight stereo, when it sounded better. It was also fine on my computer.

Copyright © 2003 by Peter Grahame Woolf.