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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards 2021 - 11/2021)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Cavalli’s fame as an opera composer may once have eclipsed his sacred music but in the 25 years since Concerto Palatino issued a double CD of his Vespers music (Harmonia Mundi, 5/96), the Coro Claudio Monteverdi di Crema have devoted several discs to it. This instalment draws from the same collection as Concerto Palatino; the Nisi Dominus, Laudate pueri and Ave maris stella appear on both recitals.

The inevitable comparison with Concerto Palatino does the Italian musicians no disservice. They draw on a more restricted instrumental ensemble (the only wind instrument is a dulcian, customarily used to reinforce the bass line), but this is offset by the dynamism of their organist, Maurizio Mancino, who takes a far more active role than the continuo group of Concerto Palatino, so that the texture springs to life. (This is naturally most audible in the more intimate settings, in which the choir doesn’t intervene.) Otherwise the main difference is that whereas Concerto Palatino did everything with just eight singers, here five soloists are augmented in the larger-scale psalms by a choir – not a huge one but sufficient to alter the dynamic noticeably. Because of the music’s form they are rarely called upon, and seldom for long, but even then, the change may not sit well with those used to more compact forces. (In the Nisi Dominus they seem to come out of the blue.)

A longer intervention comes towards the end of the Laudate pueri, which outstays its welcome anyway; at least its presence there seems more motivated. But the lion’s share of the singing is entrusted to soloists: though not as clean or precise as Concerto Palatino’s, they take more risks and work well together. Enjoyable on their own terms, these performances also help us to a more rounded view of Cavalli.

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