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American Record Guide: (03/2018) 
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 3149020930823


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Reviewer: John W. Barker

In his years as director of the musical establishment at San Marco Basilica in Venice, beginning in 1613, Claudio Monteverdi all but ceased publishing collections of his music. But in the last years of his life he put together extensive retrospective collections of both his secular and sacred writing. In 1638 he issued his Eighth Book of Madrigals, a grand two-part assemblage that also included several of his theatrical works. Eight years after he died, his admirers published in 1651 what they called his Ninth Book of Madrigals. Meanwhile, in 1640-41, Monteverdi himself gathered together a rich overview of his sacred works, composed in his Venetian years, and titled them Selva Morale e Spirituale (Moral and Spiritual Grove). Later, admirers collected more of this material and published it as the posthumous Missa a Quatro Voci et Salmi in 1650.

Vastly overshadowed by his landmark Vespers collection of 1610, the fruits of his sacred composition in Venice have only had sporadic attention. (The notes erroneously assert that this 1640-41 collection “is our only surviving testimony to Monteverdi’s intensive compositional activity for St Mark’s”.)

This 1640-41 Selva collection has been sampled a number of times, and for a full discography you might go back to January/February 2002. In some cases, conductors (Andrew Parrott, Gustav Leonhardt, and Rinaldo Alessandrini) have created out of its contents some artificial liturgical services. Here we have just an ample gathering of miscellaneous works from that collection, following at least five predecessors. From the publication’s 37 individual items (including a complete polyphonic Mass), we are given here fewer than half, 15 pieces. These include four Psalms (including the Magnificat Primo a 8 Voci), two Salve Regina settings, two “spiritual madrigals” (in Italian), two Mass tidbits, and three  miscellaneous Latin texts.

The singers and players of the Balthasar Neumann ensembles (taking their name from the great Baroque architect) are old hands at music of this kind and deliver expert performances. Heras-Casado has not been much identified with Baroque music before, but he fully appreciates the flexibilities need in this rhythmically volatile music. And the sound is bright and vivid.

If you want some idea of Monteverdi’s sacred music after 1610, this is a good selection. Still, the serious collector really needs the full Selva assemblage: Michel Corboz (Erato, MHS) or (after a fashion) Frieder Bernius (FSM). But those are hard to find nowadays. More likely to be found is the magnificent Harmonia Mundi set recorded by the Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino under Konrad Junghanel: superb performances, beautifully recorded (901718, 3 CD).

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