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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy music, 20 Dec. 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Venetian Vespers (Monteverdi · Rigatti · Grandi· Cavalli) /Gabrieli Consort & Players · McCreesh (Audio CD)
Venice, once the most powerful city in the world due to its position in trade routes and as a nexus for military activities between the East and West, was also a leading centre for the arts and music for generations. As often happens, the cultural influence of the city remained strong long after the political and economic power was gone. So strong was the influence of Venice at this time that musicians and artists of other nations came to Venice to study, and carried back the influence to their home countries. One of the towering figures of this history was Claudio Monteverdi, who along with his many compositions sacred and secular, is credited with the first opera, 'L'Orfeo'. Monteverdi's compositions form the heart of this collection, which is designed as would be a Vespers service in St. Mark's Basilica in 1643.
Monteverdi is the leading light in this collection, but other composers of the time are also featured. The great Giovanni Gabrieli is acknowledged not only in the opening piece, but also in the name of the performers: the Gabrieli Consort and Players, under the direction of Paul McCreesh. Other composers featured include Rigatti, Grandi, Banchieri, Finetti, Cavalli, Marini, and Fasolo. The service of Vespers at St. Mark's was an elaborate affair, enhanced with extraliturgical motets and instrumental music, according to McCreesh. This was not according to standard liturgical practice, but was typical Venetian practice, where the Vespers became a very popular event. The Doge regularly attended the service.
This recording includes musical settings and plainchant from the time. While St. Mark's had a choir and consort of players totaling as many as 30 people each, usually services would only require about half that number. The choir would have had castrati as part of the vocal ensemble; that vocal range has been provided here by female sopranos and male falsettists.
Paul McCreesh formed the Gabrieli Consort and Players while still a student at Manchester University in the 1980s. Since then, the group and conductor have gone on to international awards and acclaim, specialising in music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, which this particular disc fits by being done at the mid-point of the transition between the two.
This is a glorious, two-disc collection, done in a wonderful form of reconstructing what an actual service would be like. It is a brilliant performance, with graceful vocal and instrumental blending and strong tones of the spirit of music.
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