Magazine article Gramophone


Magazine article Gramophone


Article excerpt


Soloists; Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv Produktion (2) 429 565-2AH2 or in The John Eliot Gardiner Collection (DG)

'If the choral contribution to his 1974 record was until now the best available, it is exceeded by the new recording. Nisi Dominus... comes across with stunning brilliance; and the high point of the entire performance may be in Lauda Jerusalem, where the balance and control provide a truly awesome climax to the sequence of psalms' wrote David Fallows in a coolish review back in January 1991. Nearly 15 years later--in February 2005--we asked three of our contributors to return to the recording and re-assess its impact.

Lindsay Kemp This recording was made in St Mark's, Venice, so obviously it was a special occasion with special interpretative requirements. After all, when you're setting up in a building like that for the first time, it's no good trying to dictate to it; you have to show it a bit of respect and do what it tells you to do. Gardiner's clearly done that and produced an atmospheric and distinctive performance beautifully accommodated to its de luxe setting. Ethereally placed distant soloists are the most obvious thing, but the way the choral recitations in Dixit Dominus are almost yelled (highly disciplined yelling, mind!), or the instrumental bass-lines are vigorously punched out, are presumably designed to cut through the acoustic of the old basilica. As a result, this is a gloriously public Vespers, and thoroughly Venetian for that. Having said that, this rather belligerent, hard-driven approach was also something of a characteristic of Gardiner's back in the 1980s, and I must say I'm finding it less attractive as time goes by. It seems to have its basis more in instrumental playing than in singing, and for me it removes some of the music's mystery.

I suspect Gardiner may have tired of it too: when I heard him do the B minor Mass at the Proms last summer it was transformed--much more vocal in feel, more smoothly shaped, and somehow more spiritual too. Doing the Bach Pilgrimage in 2000 must have played apart in that, but I'd like to think Gardiner's Monteverdi today would be similarly altered.

Richard Lawrence I suppose most people mellow over the years, don t they? And having also heard that B minor Mass last summer I agree that Gardiner might be softer-grained in

Monteverdi today. But actually I think his approach, which I would call vigorous rather than belligerent, is appropriate for the choral numbers. And I love the light, dancing effect he gets in Lauda Jentsalem and Nisi Dominus.

I must admit to finding the building question something of a red herring. There's no evidence that the Vespers were written for St Mark's, though some of the motets and psalms could have been performed during Monteverdi's time as maestro di cappella. I've never heard music there, but I imagine the acoustic is resonant, in which case much of this performance, given Gardiner's speeds, would be heard as an undifferentiated jumble. In fact the sound is beautifully clear and it worries me slightly--but only slightly--that it owes much to the engineers sleight-of-hand.

David Vickers I liked Lindsay's description of the set as 'gloriously public', and 'thoroughly Venetian'. Alessandrini's new set reminds us of the Vespers' Mantuan origin, as Harry Christophers did in the 1980s, but Gardiner claims that Monteverdi might have used some of the vesper psalms for his audition at San Giorgio Maggiore. Monteverdi scholar John Whenham insists this is wrong, but I wonder what it would have been like if Gardiner had chosen the intimacy of San Giorgio, just across the water, over the opulence of St Mark's. I dare say the project would not have excited DG or the public quite so much, and the DVD would not have been so full of splendid details of the Basilica. Perhaps it matters not that Monteverdi may have performed some of his vespers music in Venice, but that Gardiner has. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.