Top positive review
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Grand without being triumphalist
on 22 August 2010
Odd how differently people hear this recording. A number of English reviewers' pale sensibilities are offended by the robustness of this performance, whereas American contributors are by and large much more welcoming of Gardiner's large-scale approach. Personally I love its grandeur and attack; it epitomises the renewed confidence and momentum of Catholicism in the Counter-Reformation. If you want restraint and understatement, Andrew Parrot's one-voice-per-part version is for you, but I think his approach severely undermines and mischaracterises the nature of the music and its spiritual inspiration. For me, twenty-five years on, for all that I am by no means an indiscriminate fan of Gardiner's musicianship, this account leaves all others in the dust. It marks a huge improvement on his earlier version and provides the most alluring and seductive introduction possible to Monteverdi's sound-world.
Gardiner's almost aggressively phrased and paced introduction raises fears that he is going to be a gung-ho pace throughout, but he soon relaxes into the lyrical sections of the score and permits his singers the requisite space and freedom to do justice to the lovely melismata, gorgeous suspended harmonies and spicy discords. The spacious acoustic of St Mark's lends weight and nobility the sound without obscuring detail; the recording engineers have achieved a very satisfying compromise between reverberation and clarity. Gardiner has used substantial forces: a big choir and baroque orchestra, sometimes doubling the singers with instruments and choosing soloists who sing out without sounding either "white", hooty and precious or, at the other extreme, too "operatic". In fact the singing is the best feature of this account; both the soloists and choir are stupendously good, especially tenor Nigel Robson.
I place this amongst Sir JEG's finest achievements, something of a benchmark recording. I have certainly never felt the need to own or listen to any other.