Claudio Monteverdi - Vespro della Beata Vergine - L'Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar (2011) High-Fidelity FLAC Stereo 24bit/44.1kHz
Сomposer: Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Artist: L'Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar
Title: Monteverdi - Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)
Genre: Classical, Choral
Label: © EMI Records Ltd./Virgin Classics
Release Date: 2011
Quality: High-Fidelity FLAC Stereo 44,1kHz/24bit
Recorded: 15-22 April 2010 at the Metz Arsenal
L’Arpeggiata, the multi-faceted ensemble led by Christina Pluhar, celebrates its 10th birthday by marking the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata vergine, one of the supreme masterpieces of music history. As Pluhar explains: “All 30 singers and instrumentalists on our recording have had a long and emotional relationship with this work.”
2010 marked the 400th anniversary of one of the landmarks of musical history, Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata Vergine, better known simply as the Vespers. Exactly 50 times younger is the multi-faceted vocal and instrumental ensemble L’Arpeggiata, founded 10 years ago by Christina Pluhar. Pluhar’s achievement was recognised in 2009 with Germany’s prestigious Echo Klassik award for L’Arpeggiata’s first Virgin Classics release, Teatro d’Amore, which presented a diverse, improvisational programme of items by Monteverdi. Here, Pluhar and her musicians engage more formally with an extended work by the same composer.
“The Vespers is one of the supreme masterpieces of music history,” says Pluhar. “Monteverdi exploits all the skills and compositional techniques that existed at the time. All 30 singers and instrumentalists on our recording have had a long and emotional relationship with this work and were very excited by creating this recording with L'Arpeggiata. Over the last 25 years, the approach to performing the Vespers has changed considerably, and hopefully l'Arpeggiata's version will make its mark."
This Vespers is the fruit of L’Arpeggiata's collaboration with the Festival de Música Antiga de Barcelona, De Bijloke music centre in Ghent and L’Arsenal concert hall in Metz in eastern France, which, with its much-praised acoustic, was the venue for recording the work. L’Arpeggiata was in residence at L’Arsenal over the 2009-10 season.
“We have taken an intimate approach: the way the music is written suggests not a choir, but a single voice for each line,” explains Pluhar. “It is always very important for me to work with voices that I feel match the colours in the music, and I have made different choices for each section of the Vespers.” Notably, the often low-lying alto parts were shared between mezzo-sopranos, countertenors and high tenors. “The twelve singers on this recording all have wonderful voices and are astounding soloists who bring both tonal beauty and a strong theatrical presence. I gave them a lot of responsibility in the ensemble work, which I feel brings us closer to spirit of the original performances. Polyphony for six or ten solo voices does not need too much intervention from a conductor in a classical sense.”
Pluhar herself plays the theorbo in this recording, and L’Arpeggiata’s famed improvisational skills are brought to new heights in the spectacular ornamentation by the cornetti and violins. Again inspired by the music’s colours, Pluhar’s chosen instrumentation includes two organs for the sections with double choir, and features the psaltery; its timbre is closely linked with L’Arpeggiata’s soundworld and Pluhar feels it evokes archaic scenes at moments in the score.
“The texts are certainly diverse … there is the purity of the Magnificat or the erotic charge of Nigra sum from the Song of Songs, and then there is the more assertive spirit of the Dixit Dominus ... We cannot be sure whether Monteverdi conceived the Vespers as a single work or as a series of separate motets, but nevertheless there is a magic in the construction of this piece, which leaves me personally in no doubt that Monteverdi ingeniously conceived the work as a unity, both musically and theatrically.”
L’Arpeggiata’s success in capturing every aspect of the Vespers was recognised by the Metz newspaper Le Républicain Lorrain: “L’Arpeggiata intrepidly tackles this complex architecture with both monastic rigour and unprecedented flamboyance, with unrivalled instrumental and vocal virtuosity … [The] validity of the tempos is always in evidence, robust and explosive. Above all, the vocal declamation is genuine. Immediately striking is the special timbre of the male singers … whose voices shoot up … like the pillars of a cathedral … as they deploy their vocal substance, and, through their projection, suggest an operatic instrument which has accommodated to baroque style.
“… The melodiously rounded sound of the three sopranos and the mezzo, with their sensitive coloratura, naturally reflects the virginal spirit of the Vespers … As for the orchestra, the cornetts assert their presence to fabulous effect, and the natural trombones are brilliantly brassy, while the theorbos, archlute and harp provide limpid tracery. Passion, and then jubilation grow from the Lauda Jerusalem to the Ave Maris Stella, sung in a prayerful voice, to the sublime Magnificat, in which the voices and the wind instruments glow into flame. All in all, a conception that is both cloistered and profane.”
It's not easy to pinpoint precisely what makes Christina Pluhar and L'Arpeggiata's performances of Baroque music, particularly Monteverdi, so extraordinary and distinctive, even in a time -- the early 21st century -- when (pardon the oxymoron) exceptionally fine recordings of this repertoire are the rule rather than the exception. One element may be the inventiveness of her realizations of the continuo part. Composers of the early Baroque generally wrote only a bass line for the accompaniment, an indication of the harmony, and occasionally a specification as to what instruments should be used, leaving the choice of the actual notes to be played, and usually, which instruments to the discretion of the performer. On this recording, for example, Pluhar uses at various times Baroque harp, psaltery (a hammered dulcimer), two small organs, violas da gamba, archlutes, and theorbos to create fresh, richly textured, and varied accompaniments, and the figures they play are imaginative and nuanced. A second element may be her choice of vocalists. Pluhar tends to use singers who are not international stars but who have voices with great character and individuality but are also team players, able to blend with the group. Perhaps her distinctiveness is a result of her uncanny affinity for music of this era, of which this recording of Monteverdi's Vespro della beata vergine is further evidence; the performance practically shimmers with energy and vitality. Although at 75 minutes, it is 15 minutes shorter than the usual performance of the piece, it unfolds not with any sense of hurry, but with a lively momentum that feels entirely natural. The purity, warmth, and fervor of the vocal performances is outstanding throughout. Each of the 12 singers is featured as a soloist or in a small ensemble, and the singing is so consistently gorgeous that it seems unfair to single out individuals, but tenors Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro, Markus Brutscher, and Jan van Elsacker in "Duo Seraphim," and sopranos Núria Rial and Raquel Andueza in "Pulchra es" particularly stick in the memory. Virgin Classics' sound is, as usual, immaculate, balanced, and the resonance is ideal: spacious, but still intimate. Highly recommended. --AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
First, let’s clear away a little uncertainty. The Vespers were published in 1610 but composed over an unknown period several years before. Monteverdi, often associated with Venice, was living, rather unhappily, in Mantua working for the hopelessly unsympathetic Gonzaga family. Secondly, he may have submitted the work as calling-card on his application for the position of Maestro di Capella; we don’t really know. We do however know that Monteverdi expressed the wish on the title page that the Vespers could be performed not only in church but also as chamber music. I quote from the first class and detailed booklet notes by Christina Pluhar: ‘it is stated that the movements scored for smaller forces, can be performed in princely chambers, that is to say, divorced from liturgical occasions, thus suggesting that the work is not necessarily to be given as a complete entity.”
At least two types of performance and recording seem to be perfectly appropriate. One, a reconstruction of Vespers with suitable antiphons. Two, a concert version, which, in the nature of these things, offers the performers the possibility of a virtuoso showpiece. It’s the latter case we have here. Any CD collection would benefit from both types of recording and there is no doubt that this new one is exciting and certainly one for own times.
There was a time when performances - and recordings - of this work were occasional; there was a sense of moment about a performance. Now, it is all too familiar. Only a few year’s ago I sang solo in a school performance of the Vespers and I have heard of others. This familiarity has led to a confidence and a surety but with this comes the danger of becoming blasé. I wouldn’t like to accuse ‘L’Arpeggiata’ of that defect but the extraordinary speed of several movements has provoked some comment in the musical press. Indeed, the fact that the whole work, for the first time, fits onto one CD is remarkable. The album comes with a second disc which - lasting twenty-two minutes - gives us some idea of how the performers recorded and rehearsed. It’s odd that the pieces are not presented in order. The last of the four tracks which bears the title ‘Dixit Dominus’ is just a series of stills taken at the actual performance. Nevertheless, watching how the singers work together and react to each other and how Pluhar discreetly directs from the theorbo marshalling her troops is quite fascinating.
I thought that it might be quite interesting to put this new version beside two slightly unfashionable ones, the second recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir of 1986 on Das Alte Werk (4509 92629-2) and that by René Jacobs on Harmonia Mundi (901566.67) in 1995. Both use antiphons and both, like many others have a large choir. Jacobs uses the Nederlands Kamerkoor. The new version uses only voice per part. In many cases because the singing is so fine, beautifully articulated and recorded it does not seem to matter, except in two cases. In the instrumental ‘Sonata Sopra Sancta Maria’ the vocal plainchant line is carried by the two sopranos. They do so a little feebly and with much effort against the strong instrumental contribution. Similar struggles can be heard in the ‘Lauda Jerusalem’. L’Arpeggiata chose the transposed version (down a fourth) taking away the excitement of the bright, impatient mood of the seven-part setting. Its speed and tumbling words make it seem too light and madrigalian but very dance-like. The Magnificat is also performed in the transposed version; the reason in both cases being that Monteverdi uses a high clef called a chiavette and may well have expected a lower pitch.
The ‘Ave Maris Stella’ in which differing instrumental groups pleasingly play the ritornelli, sounds rather like a galliard with its one-in-a-bar pulse. Naturally the question of tempi must be addressed. Comparison with the two versions above time-wise proves what one might expect. Removing the antiphons from the equation and taking the early Dixit Dominus as an example, Jacobs clocks up just over eight minutes; interestingly Harnoncourt is twenty seconds faster. These steadier speeds do add a certain dignity, even nobility and serene pacing to the setting. L’Arpeggiata take just, six and a half minutes, which is forty seconds faster than the brilliant John Eliot Gardiner on Archiv. Does it matter?
Except for the occasions mentioned above the pace never feels pushed beyond the limits. One is constantly astonished by the clarity of the singing and the articulation of the instrumental work as they dizzily add cadential elaboration and other decorations.
We have to understand the approach as, at the end of her notes, Christina Pluhar explains, “the cantus firmus must be able to generate its own musicality and line through the choice of rapid tempos while at the same time permitting concertante virtuosity….” So, this for me will never be my only version of the Vespers but it’s one I will often refer to and enjoy for its sheer vitality and excitement. It’s beautifully recorded and presented with hard-back packaging and full texts. Much to my pleasure we also get separate tracks for the sections of the Magnificat. --Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)
1 Introitus: Deus In Adiutorium - Toccata: Domine Ad Adiuvandum 2:06
2 Psalmus 109: Dixit Dominus 6:32
3 Concerto: Nigra Sum 3:20
4 Psalmus 112: Laudate Pueri 5:41
5 Concerto: Pulchra Es 3:18
6 Psalmus 121: Laetatus Sum 6:04
7 Concerto: Duo Seraphim 5:08
8 Psalmus 126: Nisi Dominus 3:53
9 Concerto: Audi Coelum 6:39
10 Psalmus 147: Lauda Jerusalem 4:10
11 Sonata Sopra Sancta Maria, Ora Pro Nobis 5:59
12 Hymnus: Ave Maris Stella 6:17
13 Magnificat 0:39
14 Et Exultavit 1:06
15 Quia Respexit 1:36
16 Quia Fecit 1:00
17 Et Misericordia Eius 1:43
18 Fecit Potentiam 0:53
19 Deposuit Potentes 2:00
20 Esurientes 1:10
21 Suscepit Israel 1:14
22 Sicut Locutus 1:00
23 Gloria Patri 1:46
24 Sicut Erat 1:58
Nuria Rial, Raquel Andueza, Miriam Allan, sopranos
Luciana Mancini, mezzo-soprano
Pascal Bertin, contre-ténor
Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Markus Brutscher, Jan van Elsacker, Fernando Guimarães, ténors
Fulvio Bettini, baryton
Hubert Claessens, João Fernandes, basses
Eero Palviainen, archiluth
Daniel Zapico théorbe, tiorbino
Sarah Ridy, harpe baroque
Elisabeth Seitz, psaltérion
Veronika Skuplik, Mira Glodeanu, violon baroque
Christine Plubeau, Florencia Bardavid, violes
Doron Sherwin, Gebhard David, Frithjof Smith, cornets
Simen van Mechelen, Stefan Legée, Frank Poitrineau, trombones
Elodie Peudepièce, violone
Elisabeth Geiger, Haru Kitamika, orgue
Christina Pluhar théorbe, direction
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