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American Record Guide: (01/2018) 
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Reviewer: John W. Barker

John Butt’s Dunedin Consort has racked up an impressive catalog of recordings of major works, mostly by Bach but also by Mozart and Handel. It was inevitable that he and his group should tackle that earliest of Baroque masterpieces, the Monteverdi Vespers. Butt himself has written extensive booklet notes to explain not only specific performance decisions but also to argue for his approach. He has perceived a considerable stylistic consistency and unity through the full compositional assemblage. Though he resists the idea that he is arguing for a “concert work” identity for it, that is essentially what he is doing. He rigorously argues against identifying it with liturgical functions and strictly avoids what many other directors have done in the way of interpolating plainchant antiphons to make it sound like part of a liturgical celebration. It is a case worth making, and Butt carries it out scrupulously. He employs 10 singers, who share solo assignments and become the “chorus” as needed. His instrumental resources are 20 players: 6 on strings, with theorbo (Elizabeth Kenny, no less); on flute, recorders (2), harp, harpsichord, and organ, plus 3 cornets and 3 sackbuts of the “brass” group. All performers are excellent and work intensively together. Butt’s tempos are propulsive, and the recording is close up, especially for the singers. Yet, the expected clarity of parts is not always achieved. It is not always possible to follow the lines in ensembles. Notably lost is the function of the plainchant embedding in the Psalm settings. To follow that is crucial to appreciating how Monteverdi is modifying his use of prima prattica style in his writing. It might have been a good idea to have an instrument double that part all the time. I must add that Butt’s doctrines do not allow him to include the alternate six-part Magnificat, for which there is ample space. There is much here that I can respect, but a lot that I cannot love. It is difficult to put my finger on exactly why, but I do not find this performance a moving one. I am glad to listen to it once, but I would not recommend it for repeated hearing of this work. The ample booklet includes texts and translations, with identification of specific performers.

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