Tuesday, June 27, 2006

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.


At 9:19 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for that. How do you feel it weighs against Jordi Savall's version? I personally find this version the most satisfying, and the only version I haven't got is the new series from King. :)

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

A lot of people like Savall, and he provides convincing evidence for his position. However, he - to my mind - comes from the position of responding to Parrott. Not a bad approach, and it puts him in with a lot of good recordings. Nevertheless, I prefer a more liberal interpretation (though not as liberal as Gardiner).

Performance-wise, Savall is really quite fantastic.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I surely love the liveliness of the Savall performance, and I simply love Khiers voice and performance, one of the absolute best Monteverdi interpreters.

One thing to remember though, is that Parrott was recorded in in 1984/85, Savall was recorded in 1989, and Gardiner in 1990, so it's fair that they respond in succession, too.

The King version is 2005 (I think?) so it should be taking into account 15 years of thought, singing and development since the last itereation. In fact, I'm often pondering what it would sound like if the respective battletants would re-record the vespers now. One can dream. :)


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