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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan
Compared to the 1610 Vespers, the operas or the madrigals, Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale has been rather poorly served on disc. Perhaps it’s the sheer scale of the project that includes some four hours of music; perhaps it’s the range of repertoire that spans from solo-voice chamber music to double-choir festal extravagance. Whatever the reason, there’s plenty of space for a new recording to supplement classic accounts by Les Arts Florissants and Cantus Cölln, and on the basis of this first selection from Pablo Heras-Casado and the Balthasar Neumann Choir and Ensemble I very much hope that this one-off release turns into a complete set.
Framing the disc are the mighty Dixit Dominus secondo and the Magnificat primo – two works calculated to show off the force of the Balthasar Neumann musicians in full spate. Skimming the hairpin bends of Monteverdi’s shifting tempos, HerasCasado delivers energised, highly rhythmic performances that always look and lean forwards to the next episode. He’s helped by superb engineering, which allows the instrumental forces to glow bright above the voices, the cornetts carving fireworklike trails against the rich choral backdrop.
Speeds are swift and dances light,
lending real urgency to the joyful works. Jubilet tota civitas for solo
soprano and the soprano duet Ut queant laxis positively groove with
delight, while the Et resurrexit struggles endearingly to contain its
excitement. But while everything is nuanced, correct and very glossy indeed,
there’s perhaps just a little too much uniformity, too much politeness to
capture the true spirit of Monteverdi. Some rougher edges and a less controlled
choral sound would give us those madrigalian colours that never sit far below
the surface, even in the sacred music.
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