More Vespro thoughts
In an age when Mahler cycles are the flavor of the month, if not the lingua franca, of the classical recording business, Hyperion must be praised for its intelligence and sensitivity. In fact, Hyperion is one of the more responsible and cerebral (in the best sense) labels out there. Today, crossover hits - dictated by the tsars at Sony-BMG and Universal - are the name of the game.
Hyperion, with Robert King and The King's Consort, has undertaken a complete cycle of Monteverdi's sacred music. The newest release is the 1610 Vespro della Beata Virgine. On its own merits, I think it speaks for itself. It eschews both Gardiner's theatricality (DG/Archiv) and Parrott's liturgically-oriented approach. It's pricey, but it's also worth it. Buy it. However, a thought or two about the three major approaches to the Vespro seems appropriate.
In some circles, there is a tendency to see Monteverdi writing an Italian opera in the guise of a liturgical cycle. This tends to put the score into a realm of bombast and swagger that is not wholly appropriate. Now, Counter-Reformation or not, there are always limits to church music, especially in the Roman Church. There is always the element of theater or drama, if you will, in liturgies of any sort. However, unless one is at the Vatican, the Mass (or any other Office) isn't exactly high opera.
However, one could go to far in the other direction, and deal with the Vespro as a solely liturgical piece. Parrott, to my mind, does exactly this. Plainchant connecting the motets, clear heritage between Monteverdi's work and the Gregorian chant that preceded it, and the like are pretty stark examples of this sort of approach. It works, I suppose. However, it also ignores the dramatic aspects of the work.
Obviously, I am advocating for a middle path here. I think King, and to a lesser extent, Jacobs, find this road. There is both the drama and the liturgy in their recordings. That is really the essence of Monteverdi...and all religious music.