If your heart pants for a monumental choral performance of the Vespers, the kind that would fill a basilica with sound, this interpretation by William Christie is the best you'll find. In addition to the nine soloists, Christie employs three chanters and a chorus of twenty-seven; the surprise, with all those voices, is that he doesn't sacrifice much clarity or tonal definition. Verily, recording technology is showing promise! Christie's regular orchestra, Les Arts Florissants, is fortified for this performance by the three cornetts and three tombones of Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse, and by two recorders and a dulcian. I certainly can't fault the addition of the dulcian, even if it's only heard distinctly for a few bars here and there. Every Baroque performance should include a dulcian.
This is the Vespers conceived on a monumental scale that reminds me of the grandly posed paintings of Piero della Francesca or Giovanni Bellini. Check the tempi, for instance, against other performances, especially that of Tragicomedia. Christie takes every movement at least 15% slower. That, of course, may be necessary with such mass vocal forces, but the emotional effect is to emphasize grandeur at the cost of fancifulness. Tragicomedia takes the opposite route, using only the soloists as choir, aiming for sprightliness and clarity instead of power. If I had to choose one performance of the Vespers and discard the other, I'd probably keep the Tragicomedia... until the Magnificat, when Christie's interpretation reaches its climax of awesome magnificence. Fortunately, I can afford to keep both.
Christie inserts two extra instrumental movements into this performance - a sonata for violin and gamba, and a sonata for violin and cornetto with dulcian, both by Giovanni Cima. Given the scale of this performance, the insertions fit very well and sustain the mood perfectly. However, some items of the "concert" version of the Vespers are omitted from this "liturgical" recreation, for reasons that Christie explains in his notes. Unlike the dour sound of the Vespers as conducted by Jordi Savall, the 'mood' Christie creates is one of high counter-reformation glory. This is a very fine recording in every detail, far more impressive than the CDs of the same music conducted by Andrew Parrott and Masaki Suzuki.
But wait! There is yet another superb performance of the Vespers, with all the concert movements but without the antiphons, recorded by Concerto Italiano, with Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting. The singers in Alessandrini's performance are flamboyantly rich and resonant, particularly the basso. The cornetto playing is extraordinary. It's impossible, really, to assign an order of preference among these three, Christie, Alessandrini and Stubbs.