Vespers [The complete 1610 publication, including the six-part Magnificat and Missa In illo tempore]
Carolyn Sampson & Rebecca Outram (sopranos)
Daniel Auchincloss & Nicholas Mulroy (high tenors)
Charles Daniels & James Gilchrist (tenors)
Peter Harvey, Robert Evans & Robert Macdonald (basses)
Choir of The King’s Consort
The King’s Consort
Recorded 6-11 February 2006 in St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: August 2006
CD No: HYPERION
CDA67531/2 [2 CDs]
Duration: 2 hours 17 minutes
According to the unimpeachable theology of the current Pope (Benedict XVI), music performs an essential role within the Catholic liturgy; it is the sacred equivalent of the human imperative to sing as a form of self-expression, to articulate the divine in ways that fail as speech. Music allows what cannot be spoken to take concrete form. The Pope (known to be a keen Mozart pianist) has almost certainly had a number of first-hand examples from his brother Georg Ratzinger, the choirmaster at Regensburg, who has recorded extensively for Deutsche Grammophon.
Monteverdi’s “Vespers” was an extraordinarily inspired form of CV, to give to the then Pope, Paul V, in the hope of moving on from the Gonzaga court at Mantua. This is supported by the fact that his precious publications were all of secular music. As the author of Hyperion’s booklet note, John Whenham, discusses in his Cambridge University Press guide to the “Vespers”, Monteverdi doubtless wrote for liturgical, not concert performance.
How are the “Vespers” to be performed for recording purposes? They can be hypothetically reconstructed with plausible interpolations (as in the competing Hyperion recording with The Sixteen), with Mantua as a place of the probable first performance, or imagined in St Mark’s itself (as in John Eliot Gardiner’s version), where we know Monteverdi went for interview in 1613, at which time some of his ‘recently published’ works were performed.
Robert King’s choice, perhaps because The King’s Consort is recording the whole of Monteverdi’s religious music, is to give the entirety of what was actually published in 1610; there are therefore both settings of the ‘Magnificat’ – differently scored and clearly aimed towards suiting all combinations of local resources.
Robert King is often portrayed as a more ‘essentialist’ unadorned Renaissance and Baroque interpreter, as against, for example, a number of consciously theatrical Gardiner recordings. Nevertheless, this interpretation comes over as deeply personal (King has had a lifelong association with the “Vespers”, as he describes in his own contribution to the booklet, including transcribing them in 1979 as the basis of his own scholarly thoughts on the work). The Ratzinger conception of sacred music would approve. The “Vespers” has an outstandingly exhilarating opening; beautifully crisp ensemble playing, atmospheric singing; one can almost smell the incense. There is fine crisp string and brass playing throughout. Of the two settings of ‘Magnificat’, the more modest and severe one (an organ the only instrument) is given (suitably) a more intimate performance.
Both Carolyn Sampson and Rebecca Outram live up to their excellent reputations; their duets are especially winning. Sampson has a tremendous reputation in this repertoire; her tone is characteristically creamy; some will prefer a more treble-like soprano. James Gilchrist is much to be praised.
“Missa In illo tempore” is a bonus, much less known, borrowing both style and content from an older mode (specifically, a motet by Gombert). This is the most austere piece of all, even the ‘Gloria’ sounds more duty than celebration, yet it completes a musical statement of considerable interest.
Very fine recording, too; though more resonant (necessarily so because of the spatial effects) than will suit some tastes. King describes “Vespers” as “surely the grandest musical calling card ever written”. And this recording is no mean calling card for TKC itself.