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GRAMOPHONE (01/2023)
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DG 4862977

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Reviewer :
Lindsay Kemp


It is not a new idea to build a Monteverdi Vespers (Venetian) that is not the Monteverdi Vespers (Mantuan), but no two of them will ever be the same, and each will have its own strengths. This must be the first time the organ has been the main one of those: Andrea Marcon says he has been waiting for the right instrument to come along, and now here it is in the form of a large organ built in 1998 in early 17th-century Venetian style by Francesco Zanin at the Chiesa di Santa Caterina in Treviso. It certainly makes a difference. Instead of the gentlemanly support offered by a chamber organ, this bad-boy is a constant presence, adding fruitiness throughout the compass, lending extra weight to the block choral contrasts of Dixit Dominus or the Magnificat, and helping to draw smaller-scale pieces such as Confitebor tibi Dominum further out into the acoustic of the building. It also gets solos, supplying short but brawny intonazioni by Giovanni Gabrieli (played by Giulio De Nardo) as preludes to the vocal numbers. Marcon’s ‘Christmas Vespers’ retains the liturgical structure of responsory, five psalms, hymn and Magnificat, keeping the responsory (‘Domine ad adiuvandum’) familiar from the 1610 Vespers, taking the other main pillars from Monteverdi’s 1641 collection Selva morale et sprituale – apart from the psalms mentioned above they include the popular Beatus vir and a lesser-known Laudate pueri and Laudate Dominum – and looking to other Venetian composers for many of the items in between. So we get two delicious duo motets by Alessandro Grandi, warmly upholstered ensemble sonatas by Gabrieli and Francesco Usper, and a beautifully awestruck Hodie Christus natus est for alto and two violins by Giovanni Valentini.

The compilation thus differs from Venetian (but not Christmas) Vespers by Paul McCreesh (DG, 4/93), Rinaldo Alessandrini (Naïve, A/14) and Robert Hollingworth (Decca, 7/17). Although they share a lot of the same music, McCreesh uses psalms by Monteverdi, Rigatti and Cavalli ,for instance, while Hollingworth finds a responsory by Viadana, and Marcon is the only one not to include any chant. The nearest to being the same is a 2003 Christmas Vespers from Erik Van Nevel’s Currende (Etcetera), delivered in more precise but considerably leaner style, and with a lot less atmosphere. Indeed, for purely musical impact Marcon’s differs from its rivals mainly by that rich, organ-boosted sound and the largish 24-strong choir, as well as the effect its ripe but not overlong reverberance has on the ambience, even if at times it can be oppressive, softening the music’s attack and putting some of the vocal solos in danger of going under. I suspect it may lie behind some of the steady tempo choices as well. Whether you will want to make it part of your Christmas may depend on whether the meaty splendour of it makes you tingle, or if you would prefer the crisper and more agile approaches of its rivals. It is worth recording that it does not have much of an actual Christmassy feel – only two pieces have texts specific to the occasion – but there is no doubt that its choice of music brings rich gifts.



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