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In such sure hands (and throats) as these, Monteverdi’s psalmsettings reach their fullest capacity to enchant and astonish

David Vickers admires a reconstruction of Venetian Vespers using music from Monteverdi’s

Selve morale e spirituale, superbly performed by I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingwoth

‘The Other Vespers’ Castello Sonata in D minor Donati Dulcis amor Iesu! Frescobaldi Toccata terza G Gabrieli Magnificat a 14 Monteverdi Beatus vir I. Confitebor tibi, Domine II. Dixit Dominus II. Laudate Dominum I. Laudate pueri I. Salve, o regina. Ut queant laxis Palestrina/Bovicelli Ave verum corpus Usper Sonata a 8 Viadana Deus in adiutorium I Fagiolini; The 24; The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble / Robert Hollingworth Decca F 483 1654DH (80’ • DDD • T/t)

There is only one eyewitness report of Monteverdi directing Vespers music after his permanent relocation to Venice: the Dutch tourist Constantijn Huygens attended a Vespers for the Feast of St John the Baptist on June 24, 1620 (probably at SS Giovanni e Paolo), and ‘heard the most perfect music I think I shall ever hear in my life’. This enigmatic occasion has prompted several speculative reconstructions of an alternative Monteverdi Vespers making use of music selected from his large Venetian


anthology Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1641 but its content presumably written across many years; the collection is rich in multiple settings of psalms necessary for important male saints’ feasts (and much else), so Robert Hollingworth’s mischievously titled ‘The Other Vespers’ represents just one of a range of possible alternatives.

Recorded during chilly November conditions at St George’s Church, Chesterton, there is plenty of warmth and animation in the superb music-making. I Fagiolini’s consort and solo singing are exemplary, and on a few occasions fuller choral moments are bolstered by eight talented students from The 24 (Hollingworth’s recently founded chamber choir at the University of York). Five psalms and a hymn from Selva morale are placed within a plausible liturgical context between plainchant antiphons (sung with unaffected simplicity) and plenty of music by Monteverdi’s contemporaries.

Viadana’s response Domine ad adiuvandum (1612) is adorned with liberal embellishments from cornettist Andrea Inghisciano; Gawain

Glenton’s seductive cornett floats sensitively above a fascinating sacred contrafactum of a Palestrina madrigal, its polyphony reworked by Giovanni Battista Bovicelli into a stylishly devised example of how to ornament (Ave verum corpus). Castello’s Sonata in D minor (1629) is played with conversational charm by violinist Bjarte Eike, and organist Catherine Pierron demonstrates a nimble touch in a Frescobaldi Toccata (1637). The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble displays its expertise in a solemn eight-part Sonata by Monteverdi’s Venetian colleague Francesco Usper (1619). The largest-scale music is a 14-part Magnificat by Giovanni Gabrieli (1615), which captures the perfect incongruity of polished gutsiness, whereas five solo voices sing with eloquent intimacy in Ignazio Donati’s motet Dulcis amor Iesu! (1616). Throughout proceedings the continuo realisations of theorbists Lynda Sayce and Eligio Quintiero are impeccable.

In such sure hands (and throats) as these, Monteverdi’s psalm-settings reach their fullest capacity to enchant and astonish. Dixit Dominus

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