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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643): "Eternal Monteverdi - Vespro della Beata Vergine 1650"

La Capella Ducale; Musica Fiata
Dir: Roland Wilson

rec: June 27 - 29, 2016, Fürth (D), St. Michael
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985375132 (© 2017) (82'02")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
Claudio MONTEVERDI: Dixit Dominus I (III) a 8 (SV 191)abcdefghijklmnopqr [5]; Giovanni RIGATTI (1613-1648): Audi dulcis amica meaepqr [4]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Laudate pueri (III) a 5 da capella (SV 196)adefghijklmr [5]; O quam pulchra es (SV 317)apq [1]; Laetatus sum (I) a 5 istrumenti e 6 voci (SV 198)abefgklmnopqr [5]; Massimilano NERI (1623-1670): Sonata III a 3imnqr [6]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Nisi Dominus (I) a 3 voci e 2 violini (SV 200)begmnopqr [5]; Giovanni RIGATTI: Ardet cor meumgqr [4]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Lauda Jerusalem (I) a 3 con 5 voci in ripieno (SV 202)abcdfgpqr [5]; Massimiliano NERI: Sonata VIII a 5, 2 soprani e fagotto, 3 tromboniijklmnpqr [6]; Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630): Ave maris stellabnopr [2]; Claudio MONTEVERDI: Magnificat I (SV 281)abcdefghjklmnopqr [3]; Salve Regina (SV deest)efgpqr; Laetaniae della beatae Vergine a 6 (SV 204)abcefgpqr [5]

Sources: [1] Leonardo Simonetti, ed., Ghirlanda Sacra, 1625; [2] Alessandro Grandi, Motetti a una, et due voci, libro terzo, 1629; [3] Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, 1641; [4] Antonio Rigatti, Motetti a voce sola, 1647; [5] Claudio Monteverdi, Messa a 4 voci et salmi a 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 et 8 voci, concertati, e parte da capella, et con le letanie della B.V., 1650; [6] Massimiliano Neri, Sonate da sonarsi con varij stromenti, 1651

[LCD] Monika Maucha, Constanze Backesb, soprano; Alexander Schneiderc, Rolf Ehlersd, alto; Georg Poplutze, Hermann Oswaldf, tenor; Dominik Wörnerg, Ulrich Maierh
[MF] Roland Wilson, cornetti; Gerd Schnackenbergj, Detlef Reimersk, Cas Geversl, sackbut; Adrian Rovatkay, dulcianm; Anette Sichelschmidtn, Christine Morano, violin; Johanna Seitz, harpp; Axel Wolf, chitarroneq; Arno Schneider, organr

Today Claudio Monteverdi is considered one of the giants of music history, comparable with the likes of Bach and Mozart. It would be interesting to know about Monteverdi's reputation in his own time and afterwards. It is remarkable that what today is treated as one of his greatest works, the Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610, seems to have found little response. In the liner-notes to his recording of this work, Giuseppe Maletto points out that "[accounts] from the time are silent and surviving copies of the original edition are extremely rare; what is more is we have no information about any reprints or any attempt of imitation of the work." That said, there are several indications that he was a composer of repute in his time. One of these is the fact that some of his madrigals were published with a sacred text, in order to serve those who admired his music, but found his texts not in accordance with their religious convictions. The present disc points in the direction of another token of the admiration for the maestro di cappella of St Mark's in Venice. In 1650, seven years after the composer's death, Giacomo Vincenti published a collection of sacred works which had not been available in print before and which he may have received from Monteverdi's son Francesco. In his preface he stated: "These holy relics from the most excellent Monteverdi, which by a miracle I was mercifully able to collect after his death, are now being published by me to pay our last respects". He would not have done so, if he did not believe there was a market for Monteverdi's music.

The edition of 1650 includes a mass setting and music for a Vesper service: Psalms and a setting of the Litanies. However, Vincenti could not find an unpublished Magnificat by Monteverdi, and therefore included a setting by Francesco Cavalli. Roland Wilson decided to perform a Vesper, and included the Psalm settings of the 1650 edition; the performance closes with the Litanies. However, the edition does not include any pieces that could serve as substitutes for the antiphons, which in a Vesper service embrace the Psalms and the Magnificat. Therefore he turned to music by contemporaries: sacred concertos for solo voice by Giovanni Rigatti and sonatas by Massimiliano Neri.

That does not mean that this recording is a kind of reconstruction of a Vesper service. The conventional opening, Deus in adiutorium, is omitted, and so are the antiphons which precede every Psalm. These differ from one feast to the other, and therefore an inclusion of antiphons had required the choice of a particular feast. In his liner-notes Wilson does not indicate which feast he had in mind for this recording.

Despite the fact that the music by Monteverdi included here was probably written over a longer period of time and not all of the pieces were intended for St Mark's, they show a strong amount of stylistic coherence. They are a mixture of the old and the new style and in most pieces instruments are given obbligato parts.

The programme opens with a setting of the first Vesper Psalm, Dixit Dominus; it is a typical Venetian work, making use of the cori spezzati technique established by Adrian Willaert. This psalm includes some dramatic verses which always have inspired composers to write some of their most exciting music, such as - in the early 18th century - George Frideric Handel. Monteverdi also doesn't miss the opportunities to vividly depict these verses. Next comes a solo concerto by Rigatti, Audi, dulcis amica mea, for solo voice and basso continuo. It is a monody, comparable to the concertos in Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers. According to Wilson, Rigatti leaves "little room for the singer to improvise embellishments". From that we have to conclude that the extensive decorations in the solo part are from the pen of Rigatti. Sometimes I don't see any reason in the text, and that confirms my judgement in my review of a disc with motets from the same 1647 edition that sometimes written-out ornaments seem to be added for no particular reason and that Rigatti exaggerates in his coloratura. However, this piece certainly does not lack in expression, for example in the chromatically descending figures on the last line: "Ideo amore tuo langueo" (Therefore I crave your love).

The next Psalm is Laudate pueri; this time we hear a setting for five voices, with the addition da capella, indicating that this is an ensemble piece, and does not include extended solo parts. O quam pulchra es is a sacred concerto by Monteverdi himself, one of four pieces from his pen included in the collection Ghirlanda Sacra, put together by Leonardo Simonetti, a castrato singer at St Mark's, and published in 1625.

Monteverdi's setting of Laetatus sum is for six instruments and five voices, mentioned in that order. The instruments involved are two violins, two sackbuts and bassoon. It includes several passages of marked text illustration, for instance the ascending figure on "ascenderunt tribus" - "the tribes go up". It is followed by the first of two sonatas by Massimiliano Neri, a composer of the generation of Rigatti. From 1644 to 1664 he was first organist at St Mark's. This sonata is for three instruments and bc; it is played here on violin, cornett and bassoon, but the booklet does not indicate whether this line-up is indicated by the composer.

Nisi Dominus is a concertato setting of Psalm 126 (127); it is scored for three voices, two violins and bc. Monteverdi's setting is highly expressive. The words "surgite postquam sederitis" (to sit up late) is illustrated by a rising figure in the vocal parts, which is then imitated by the violins. Another notable episode is on the words "sicut sagittae in manu potentis", and the phrase "loquetur inimicis suis in porta" (shall speak with the enemies in the gate) is also vividly depicted. Ardet cor meum by Rigatti is another piece on a text from the Song of Solomon; texts from this book from the Old Testament were often used for concertos in Vespers for a Marian feast. This is for bass, but Rigatti indicates that his concertos can be sung by any voice. Wilson obviously decided for a maximum of variety in the line-up of the solo concertos.

Monteverdi's Lauda Jerusalem is for three voices con 5 voci in ripieno; it is for double choir, and juxtaposes a group of soloists to a tutti choir. In Vincenti's edition the parts for the tutti are missing and had to be reconstructed. The ensuing Sonata à 6 by Neri has also a cori spezzati structure: a trio of violin, cornett and bassoon dialogues with a trio of sackbuts. Ave maris stella by Alessandro Grandi is not so much a solo concerto, but a kind of sonata sopra Ave maris stella, very much comparable with the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610.

For the Magnificat Wilson decided not to use Cavalli's setting as included in the 1650 edition. Instead he turned to the first settting in the Selva morale e spirituale of 1641. It is an elaborate and dramatic setting for eight voices and five instruments (three violins, three sackbuts and bassoon), which Wilson compares with the eighth book of madrigals, for instance in the way Monteverdi sets the dramatic passages. It is a brilliant example of Monteverdi's mixture of the old and the new style.

In the work-list of Monteverdi one finds several settings of the Marian antiphon Salve Regina, but the one included here is not one of them. It was published around 1662 by Vincenti and has only recently been identified as a piece from Monteverdi's pen. It is scored for two tenors and bass, which is unique for his sacred oeuvre. The fervour of the text is not lost on Monteverdi, and this piece has to be considered a highly important addition to the catalogue of his works.

The disc ends with a setting of the litanies for the Holy Virgin. The repetition of the same invocations has an electrifying effect, and Monteverdi's setting explores that to the full. Whereas other composers used the cori spezzati technique to create a contrast between the invocations and the repeated prayer "Ora pro nobis", Monteverdi has confined himself to six voices, singing both.

The collection of 1650 has probably not received the same attention as that given to previous collections, such as those of 1610 and 1640/41. Therefore this disc is a valuable contribution to the Monteverdi discography. It was a nice idea to select pieces from it and put them into a kind of liturgical context, even though this is not a liturgical reconstruction in the strict sense of the word. After all, this music was not intended for performance as part of a concert.

Roland Wilson is an expert in this kind of repertoire, and always gathers together those singers and instrumentalists, who have a thorough knowledge of the style of Monteverdi and his time. That is not any different here, and as a result we get completely idiomatic interpretations. Essential ingredients of a good performance, such as diction, articulation, a declamatory way of singing, ornamentation and dynamic contrasts are all part of these performances. The voices blend perfectly in the tutti parts, and the balance between voices and instruments is just right.

This disc is definitely one of the best contributions to the commemoration of Monteverdi's birth in 2017.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

La Capella Ducale & Musica Fiata


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