This is a hypothetical programme, assembled by Rinaldo Alessandrini, of Monteverdi sacred works taken mainly from the late 'Selva morale e spirituale' collection of 1640. It forms a plausible and highly effective Vespers sequence, very much in the spirit of the famous 1610 work but showing the subsequent developments in the composer's style and practices. Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano ensemble here consists of a comparatively small group of eight singers but with a goodly complement of fourteen instrumentalists. Their approach is both lively and reflective.
The sequence opens in dramatic fashion with a spirited rendition of the splendidly familiar 'Deus in adiutorium meum' section from the 1610 Vespers, and Monteverdi's following motets are interspersed with antiphons and instrumental sonatas by Gabrieli, Buonamente and Usper - the first time I've come across the latter, but I'm glad to have done so. 'Beatus vir' (track 9), also familiar to many Monteverdians, is a delight, its striding gait beautifully pointed and further enhanced by extremely high quality singing and playing - as is the case, in fact, throughout the disc. The following 8-part Sonata (10) by Francesco Usper, a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli, brings us an especially splendid, trombone-laden instrumental sound with agile cornett playing, a real treat for those of us who love the sound of early-instrument wind consorts.
'Laudate pueri' (12) is a lovely, tuneful piece, its fine singing graced in particular by the pure, clear voices of the two sopranos Monica Piccinini and Anna Simboli. Buonamente's 6-part Sonata (16) is another splendid instrumental work with fabulous cornetto playing from Josue Melendez and Andrea Inghisciano, prompting me to say again that these largely unfamiliar but beautifully performed instrumental pieces are among the greatest assets of this recording. This is followed by the short but beautiful concerted hymn setting 'Athleta Christi belliger', another superb piece in spite of its brevity. The programme closes with a majestic Magnificat setting for 8 voices with instruments, sounding especially fine in this vigorous and admirably committed performance.
There's still a further treat in store in the shape of the accompanying DVD, featuring Rinaldo Alessandrini and others in a thoroughly enjoyable mixture of music, commentary in Italian but with English subtitles, table talk, Italian cooking both then and now, all in superb church and domestic settings as appropriate. There's lots of discussion about Monteverdi's early employers the Gonzagas, the composer's development and subsequent work at San Marco, the stile concertato, cori spezzati, and the director's own reflections on the unique contribution to our culture of the great pioneer's music. We hear and watch Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano performing the Usper Sonata and the 8-voice Magnificat, and these sequences make for fascinating viewing as well as listening.
Altogether, the DVD is an enjoyable and informative bonus to an already outstanding CD recording. The booklet is handsomely produced, with excellent notes, all texts and translations, and is further enhanced by reproductions of Carpaccio's splendid tempera 'Lion of St. Mark's' - a welcome change from the tasteless and irrelevant illustrations on the covers of Naïve's Vivaldi series. Monteverdi fans shouldn't hesitate.