Monteverdi: Messa a Quattro voci – Vol 1.
Coro COR16142. 71’29
Monteverdi: Dixit Dominus (Primo), Confitebor tibi Domine (Secondo), Lauda Jerusalem; Cavalli: Magnificat; Monteverdi: Laetatus sum, Nisi Dominus, Laudate pueri, Laetaniae della Beata Vergine, Beatus vir.
In the last two years of his life, Monteverdi collected a substantial amount of his music for publication (the Madrigali guerrieri et amorisi, 1638, and Salve morale et spirituale, 1641), reflecting his musical output over the previous decades. After his death, one of his publishers had the good sense, or the commercial sense, to put together some unpublished manuscripts to form the 1650 Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. This is the first of two CDs from The Sixteen of music from this posthumous collection: the Mass setting of the title will be on the second volume. This CD includes a selection of liturgical pieces, but not in any specific liturgical context, with several Vespers Psalms, a Litany to the Virgin Mary and a Magnificat by Cavalli who probably assisted in the preparation of the publication.
Quite why Monteverdi left out a large number of pieces from these collections is still unknown. Judging from the music on this CD, it is certainly not from a lack of musical excellence. From the very first track, it is clear that this is Monteverdi on top form. The first of two versions of Dixit Dominus bubbles along in the trademark style of Monteverdi’s choral writing, with rapid switches of musical mood, the whole intrinsically linked to the underlying text. The latter is a feature of The Sixteen’s performance – as in his operas, Monteverdi uses a madrigalian focus on the rhythms of speech in his writing.
The pieces range from the opening 8 part double choir Dixit Dominus to more intimate pieces, like the following Confitebor tibi Domine, set for two voices – on this recording, Grace Davidson and Mark Dobell. It finished with the spectacular Beatus vir a7. Here, as in several of the other pieces, Harry Christophers uses soloists for most of the musical lines, occasionally reinforcing the texture with the full 18-strong choir. The resulting change in texture and volume takes a bit of getting used to, and may be slightly shaky for the authenticity police, but I’ve no real complaints.
The Sixteen are on their usual excellent form, with clear diction, precise intonation, and stylish singing from their excellent group of solo voices. Harry Christophers coordinates the often complex rhythmic changes with apparent ease. Extracts can be heard from the Coro website here.