John Eliot Gardiner conducts Monteverdi’s Vespers at Carnegie Hall

Vespro della Beata Vergine

Francesca Aspromonte, Francesca Boncompagni, Esther Brazil & Mariana Flores (sopranos), James Hall & John Lattimore (countertenors), Krystian Adam, Nicholas Mulroy, Andrew Tortise & Gareth Treseder (tenors), Alexander Ashworth & Robert Davies (baritones), and Gianluca Buratto & David Shipley (basses)

Monteverdi Choir

English Baroque Soloists
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 30 April, 2015
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Sir John Eliot GardinerPhotograph: Sim Canetty-ClarkeAlthough Claudio Monteverdi gets more attention these days for his operas and madrigals, his Vespers of 1610 is one of the Baroque era’s greatest masterpieces of religious music.

It consists of fourteen sections, not all of which are related to the Vespers church service. In the Monteverdi the motets – for the most part for solo voices with relatively restrained scoring and written primarily in the Mantuan style – contrast with opulent psalm-settings that presage the splendiferous Venetian manner. Monteverdi’s grandiose design judiciously alternates pieces of various lengths in a fascinating variety of tonalities using various vocal and instrumental groupings, including inventive spatial effects, such as off-stage echoes. John Eliot Gardiner and his masters of Baroque music were exceptional, the Monteverdi Choir unmatchable, taking the added challenge of standing in for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which cancelled.

The choral-singing combined clarity of delivery, especially impressive in the psalms ‘Laetatus sum’ and ‘Lauda Jerusalem’, perfectly balanced in passages of complex polyphony and with an engaging manner of expression, capturing innately Gardiner’s slightest nuances. The remarkably precise delivery of dotted rhythms gave these passages a light-hearted quality. Among many memorable moments were the thrilling closing section of ‘Laudate pueri’ (Psalm 112) and the ‘Ave maris stella’. The numerous vocalists, however used, were all excellent, and echo and spatial effects, whether solo or choral, were well-judged for otherworldly and other interesting dimensions.

The English Baroque Soloists is a class apart. Beside the small complement of strings (with a viola da gamba), a harp, harpsichord and organ, the instrumentation included three recorders, a dulcian (precursor of the bassoon), three cornetts (a curved metal wind instrument), three sackbuts (an early version of the trombone) and four chitarrones (theorbo). Monteverdi employs this grouping with impressive diversity. The ‘Magnificat’, the most richly extensive and complex of the pieces, provided a thrilling conclusion to a stellar performance.

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