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GRAMOPHONE (02/2015)
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Reviewer:   Lindsay Kemp

To my knowledge this is the only second time a Monterverdi Vespers has fitted onto one CD, which may not be all that important a thing in the age of download but does at least tell us something about the interpretation. Yet although at 80 minutes this is undoubtedly a swift Vespers (if not asspeedy as the 75-minute version from Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata – Virgin, 5/11), the interesting thing is that it does not often hit the ear as so. The only movements noticeably faster than usual are the ‘Dixit Dominus’ and the ‘Sonata sopra Sancta Maria’, but neither actually feels rushed. Wolfgang Katschner, it seems, has saved time less by driving the music hard than by making sure it never dawdles.


The small-scale forces used here – 10 solo voices and the minimum number of instruments (though some play discreetly in places where not specifically requested) – probably help it to be so light on its feet, and allow for clarity of texture and beauty of line, too, wonderfully captured in the controlled resonance of a hardish church acoustic. This is an intimate Vespers, not given to huge drama or massive presence, and one in which the most striking gestures – the gentle, simple Amen at the end of a cheerfully forward-moving ‘Dixit Dominus’, a hushed ‘qui habitare’ section in ‘Laudate pueri’ and a brisk Amen at the end of the Magnificat – take it in the direction of inner calm.


Katschner opts for the higher-key version of the ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ and Magnificat, purely as a matter of personal taste it seems, though to my mind it gives the cornetts and violins an unpleasantly toy-like sound, and given that the pitch is already A=465 throws quite a throaty challenge to the sopranos. The soloists, not individually identified but presumably the core members of Amarcord, are competent without being particularly characterful. ‘Duo Seraphim’, so meltingly exotic sometimes, is here rather matter-of-fact.


An honest, well-thought and well-executed Vespers with interesting things of its own to say, if not really a first recommendation.



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