Claudio Monteverdi (15.05.1567 – 29.11.1643) was an Italian composer, string player and choirmaster. Monteverdi was a composer of both secular and sacred music, and was something of a pioneer in the development of opera. He can be regarded as a key transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods of music history in much the same way that Beethoven can be regarded as the main transitional composer between the Classical and Romantic periods of music.
The Vespro della Beata Vergine, Monteverdi’s signature masterwork, is a sacred work consisting of fourteen parts: an introductory versicle and response, five psalms interspersed with five “sacred concertos” (Monteverdi’s term), a hymn, and two Magnificat settings. Monteverdi employed a wide range of musical styles including traditional features such as cantus firmus, falsobordone and Venetian canzone, intermingled with elements of the latest madrigal style, including echo effects and chains of dissonances. Readers familiar with Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo, written slightly earlier for similar instrumental and vocal forces, will recognise many similarities in the style of the two works.
There are many different interpretations and fine performances among the available recordings but for us one stands head and shoulders above the rest; namely the Hyperion recording by Robert King and his King’s Consort and Choir. This version is full of enjoyment, faster paced than many rival recordings and is unencumbered by any musicological baggage. King treats the Vespers as a work of splendour full of joyous choral singing and he gets some strong solo singing from from Carolyn Sampson, Charles Daniels and James Gilchrist in particular. Even if you already own one or more versions of the 1610 Vespers I would urge you to seek out this release. Superb music, superb performances and superb sound that truly does justice to Monteverdi’s supreme achievement.
Listen to extracts and/or purchase from Hyperion Records.