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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Monteverdi in Mantua: The Genius of the Vespers, Beal, Christophers & the Sixteen

On February 20, 2015 I reviewed here a striking performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 by the Sixteen under Harry Christophers. Monteverdi was the Italian early Baroque master who revolutionized the music by new expressive means and masterful brilliance. As one of the music texts I am always reading reminds me, his innovative use of monody and harmonized unified melody lines allowed him to go beyond strict polyphony for a new sonance, though he was also a master of the latter. The Vespers was one of his masterpieces, along with the operas and the madrigals. It exemplifies the very expressive combination of all the styles for a sacred work that no doubt startled the Duke and his retinue with its originality and stunning depth.

The Sixteen's version of the Vespers is a triumph of beauty and authentic period singularity.

Now we have a DVD documentary originally presented on BBC, Monteverdi in Mantua: the Genius of the Vespers (CORO--available as a single DVD or in a deluxe set with the Sixteen's 2-CD recording of the work). It is a moving, hour long exploration into the circumstances of Monteverdi in this period, working under a tyrannical Duke of Mantua.

Simon Russell Beale presents the narrative, the Sixteen and Harry Christopher present musical excerpts from the Vespers and along with Beale give us excellent insight into the music, the challenge of a proper performance and the intention of the composer to create a commanding sacred work in the hopes of finding better employment.

The insights of Christophers and the vocalists/instrumentalists of the Sixteen along with Beale's illuminating narrative and the Mantuan setting lead to an extraordinarily enlightening program. There is an additional bonus segment not a part of the BBC program that documents the recording of the two-CD Vespers release. It is very enlightening as well.

If you already have the Vespers CDs, the DVD is available separately. If you don't, the CDs are nicely packaged with the DVD in a deluxe version.

I found the documentary very moving in its biographical narrative and a treasure on period performance practice in the hands of Christophers and the Sixteen. Anyone serious about early music and Monteverdi will no doubt find all of this indispensable fare!

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