In anticipation of singing in the Monteverdi Vespers in October with the Durham Singers and I Fagiolini, I’ve been searching for the best recording. I think I’ve found it, in the 2017 release by La Compagnia Del Madrigale, directed by Giuseppe Maletto.
Spotify provided me with plenty of candidates. So I listened (fairly passively, I confess) to 13 different versions: Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner (1974 and 1989), Taverner Consort/Parrott (1984), Collegium Vocale Ghent/Herreweghe (1986), New London Consort/Pickett (1989), Netherlands Chamber Choir/Concerto Vocale/Jacobs (1995), Les Arts Florissants/Christie (1997), Concerto Italiano/Alessandrini (2004), Gabrieli Consort/McCreesh (2005), L’Arpeggiata/Pluhar (2011), Chœur de Chambre de Namur/García-Alarcón (2014), The Sixteen/Christophers (2014), and the Maletto version (2017). (The second Monteverdi Choir version – also available on video – is quite an epic performance, it has to be said!)
Apart from the sheer beauty of the singing and playing – with the added freshness of not coming from northern Europe – the main interpretative factors that decided it for me were:
- The balance between intimacy and grandeur. Many recordings opt for one or the other, but Monteverdi seems to call for both. With the supportive acoustic of a large church, Maletto deploys his forces perfectly to suit the character of each movement.
- The instrumentation. I was particularly struck by the use of an organ with a Principal (Open Diapason) sound. Maletto is quoted in the CD booklet:
Unlike the Bourdon stop – commonly used today but non-existent in Italian organs – the Principal is not limited to providing harmonic support for the voices but envelops the ensemble in a rich and noble sound.
- The tempi. In contrast to all of the other recordings, a slow triple time is used in some passages ‘with the purpose of obtaining a grander and more solemn effect’ (Maletto). In fact, as explained in the booklet, a sustained legato sound is pursued throughout, giving the recording a reverent sustained sonority that sets it apart from the others. Maletto explains:
If, in our fast-moving world, we want to respect the spirit of the composer, we need to recover the calm of another age by trying to stem that tendency which, in the course of more than a century of recorded music – whether it is by Monteverdi, Bach, Vivaldi or Mozart – has favoured the adoption of faster and faster tempi. In our interpretation of the Vespers, we have thus attempted to sing and play with a legato which is considered as a fundamental principle and to take all the time that is necessary.