“Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata Vergine may be a single work, a collection of disparate pieces, or musical curriculum vitae… Pressing matters for the musicologist perhaps but less so for the listener who can simply marvel at this musical cornucopia, the greatest large-scale religious work before Bach.
“Monteverdi’s music ranges far and wide emotionally and stylistically: old-style conservative church music; florid motets, with religious texts but sounding a lot like his erotic madrigals; and an opening Versicle with an opera-like flourish. Whatever the diversity of the music the modest forces of the Ex Cathedra Consort (ten singers) and a baker’s dozen of instrumentalists from its Baroque Ensemble and His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, under Jeffrey Skidmore, were up to the challenge.
“In the Motets ‘Nigra Sum’ and ‘Pulchra es’ Monteverdi elides the distinction between sacred and profane. The first was well taken by Sean Clayton’s high tenor while the latter, which begins “You are beautiful, my love”, was sumptuous and sensual as sung by sopranos Katie Trethewey and Natalie Clifton-Griffith and surely appropriately so. Sadly the vocal echo effect in ‘Audi, coelum’ – where Clayton was joined by tenor Paul Bentley-Angell – lacked magic when the enchantment of distance was compromised by having one singer stand ten feet behind the other. Pedants might cavil at the work ending with a Magnificat – a 17th century performance probably had an Antiphon and prayer – but Skidmore’s choice of a rousing conclusion made perfect musical sense.”