Stephen Midgley Reply to on 17 June 2017
|This is a programme based mainly on some of the loveliest works from Monteverdi's 'Selva morale e spirituale' collection, arranged into a celebration in Vespers format. Although quite distinct from his earlier Vespers of 1610, much of the music is just as fine. Works from a few other contemporary composers are included, such as Palestrina, Giovanni Gabrieli, Viadana and Frescobaldi, and they are interspersed with short antiphons. The programme is performed by the excellent early music ensemble I Fagiolini directed by Robert Hollingworth, supplemented by the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble and by some additional singers from The 24 (University of York). Altogether, these add up to a substantial group of around sixteen voices and a similar number of instruments.
The opening 'Deus in adiutorium' by Viadana immediately draws attention to one of this recording's great assets, namely the outstanding instrumental work – in this case the beautifully stylish cornetto embellishments. Monteverdi's following 'Dixit Dominus' (track 3) will, like several other extracts from 'Selva morale', be familiar to devoted fans of the composer. It receives a lovely performance here, enhanced by clear, pure voices and again by wonderful instrumental work. Bovicelli's 'Ave verum Corpus', adapted from a secular work by Palestrina (4), is a polyphonic piece but with instrumental embellishments transforming it into a baroque-style work, and with decorations from Gawain Glenton's mute cornetto producing an especially lovely effect.
There are many other highlights including Monteverdi's 'Confitebor tibi' (secondo), a graceful, flowing solo concertato work in triple time (6); the very familiar 'Beatus vir' (9) in a jaunty but beautifully delicate performance; 'Laudate pueri' (12), the duetting sopranos creating lovely vocal and instrumental textures; Castello's Sonata played by violin and organ to elegiac effect (13); and Monteverdi's 'Laudate Dominum' (15) in a lively, bouncy rendition. Gabrieli's polychoral Magnificat setting (20), a little short on melody but rich in passion and sonority, enjoys sumptuous instrumental accompaniment. Francesco Usper's instrumental Sonata a 8 (21), which has appeared a few times before in mixed early-baroque programmes, is played here in majestic manner by trombones with cornetti joining in along the way.
Recorded sound, in the very fine acoustic of St George's Church in Chesterton, Cambridge, is excellent. I could have done with more detail about the individual works in Robert Hollingworth's booklet notes but these are otherwise adequate, and texts and translations are included. Altogether this is a really lovely selection of some of the master's finest works, with a few well-matched pieces from other composers. Performances are outstanding, both joyful and sensitive, and altogether this is a really beautiful Venetian baroque programme.