Monteverdi – Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco
Rinaldo Alessandrini, conductor
Monteverdi and His Sacred Music
Monteverdi did not wrote sacred music for twenty-eight years when he worked in Mantua. It was not its duty to provide it. However, things changed in 1610, when he sought new employment. One of the first works he wrote were the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, which he dedicated to Pope Paul V Borghese in the hope to move to Rome (you can read here our review of the recording of the Vespers conducted by John Eliot Gardiner).
In 1613, Monteverdi was finally appointed maestro of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. From that moment onwards, the number his sacred works increased significantly as he had to compose music for many feasts. Among the most important, there are the Holy Week and Easter, Ascension Day (which included a cantata for the ceremony of the wedding of Venice to the sea in 1618), Christmas and many other religious holidays in the course of the year.
The festivities for St Mark (25 April) were of course among the most important. The present recording has the purpose to offer a reconstruction of the celebrations. It was recorded in the palatine basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua. The recording presents a repertoire of works inspired by the liturgy in use at St Mark’s during Monteverdi’s lifetime, including works by Francesco Usper, Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Battista Buonamente and, of course, Monteverdi himself.
Vespri solenni: the Performance
Concerto Italiano and Rinaldo Alessandrini
This is one of those recordings that really you do not want to end. It is so well performed, its sound is so lavish and clear that each motet, antiphon and sonata is delightful. Rinaldo Alessandrini conducts the Concerto Italiano with consummate skill and elicits the most bright and elegant sound from the orchestra. The works, not only the instrumental ones as the Sonata in loco antiphonae (composed G. Gabrieli), but also the Psalms and hymns where the instruments accompanies the voices, shine thanks to the lustrous tone and smoothness of the orchestra.
The singers are equally fine. All the voices you hear in these Vespri solenni are smooth and cultivated. However, Gianluca Ferrarini is the singer who stands out better as he sings all the unaccompanied Antiphons, apart from other pieces together with the other soloists. Among them, the most noteworthy is bass Salvo Vitale, who few years before distinguished himself in the recording of Steffani’s Stabat Mater. All the voices blend very well together when they have to sing Psalms or motets. In particular, the basses’ voices are rich and evocative.
In the booklet notes, Alessandrini eagerly praises the acoustic of the basilica of Santa Barbara. He points out that «the architecture has the capacity to absorb an enormous volume of sound without this seeming confused to the listener. The reverberation period does not exceed two seconds, and is thus ideal in both quantity and quality to invest the music of Monteverdi with that essential and indispensable timbral component which the analytical acoustics of our modern concert halls can never replace». It is a good fortune that the recorded sound is rich, clear and do justice to the performance so well. The reverberation is transparent and crystalline. It gives this music a spiritual aura which is amazing especially in the unaccompanied Antiphons and in the elaborate, conclusive Magnificat.