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There are as many ways to perform Monteverdi as varieties of pasta; pour on a plethora of vocal and instrumental flavourings, even within the bounds of historically informed performance, and the possibilities appear infinite. The Lautten Compagney and Amarcord offer the traditional 1610 sequence in a new urtext edition from Carus with no attempt to solve liturgical conundra. Squeezy phrasing in the Dixit Dominus warns that this is a mannered interpretation. Some tempi are brisk, even frantic, but heavy-handed articulation contrasts quirkily with airy, friskily nimble soloists. Incision is all: searing seraphim evoke febrile visions, and tortured shrieking from the sopranos in ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ is, frankly, appalling. Bags of character fails to ameliorate an irksome straining after freshness, galumphing along with misdirected virtuosity and misplaced zest.

If this effort gilds the lily, The Sixteen drench it in extra fragrance with, again, the 1610 sequence sans antiphons. Collectors will hail the inclusion of both versions of ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ and the Magnificat at alternative pitches, and this is also a rare reading with soloists and choir in an authentic light- weight balance. Scoring strata are clear and immediate in this three-dimensional recording, warm-toned in all departments, with a wide range of colour from an expressive team of soloists and an exemplary band. It’s spaciously interpreted, almost laid-back at times: Christophers takes his time, allowing the invention of Monteverdi to bloom with little loss of momentum. The tenderness of ‘Laudate pueri’ is very touching but, like much else here, scented and sophisticated rather than fervent.

Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Monteverdi interpretations resound with passion, and his reformatting of Vespers for the feast of La Serenissima’s patron, St Mark – using material from the 1610 manuscript and (mostly) the 1640 Selva Morale plus antiphons from the local usage of the time – is a brilliantly conceived, scholastically sound and liturgically plausible sequence, burnished with spiritual sincerity. Singing and playing of coruscating intensity, energy, technical mastery and total commitment produce passages of toe-curling excitement, and the engineering captures both detail and perspective. There’s also a marvellous bonus DVD which includes a 17th-century cooking demonstration as well as musical discussion and live performance. This may be a winning team but that won’t stop me playing ‘Monteverdi fantasy football’.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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