What finer 450th birthday present could Claudio Monteverdi receive than this handsome reissue of John Eliot Gardiner's 1989 recording of his 1610 Vespers of the Blessed Virgin?

Better still, for the price of a single CD, you get two, along with a DVD containing the BBC film of the same performance in Venice's St Mark's Basilica, one of the churches with which the composer was closely associated.

This monumental work takes the Roman Catholic evening liturgy as a framework for a breathtaking musical kaleidoscope that fully justifies its composer's reputation as the creator of modern music.

Sample the DVD first, and enjoy the bonus of a young Bryn Terfel, a year away from his operatic debut. Sans beard and in sober cassock, the Welsh bass-baritone is just one of eight impressive soloists.


Putting faces to the music does help when approaching such a choral colossus. A series of enchanting and often operatic solo turns, delivered from a pulpit, includes two nimble-voiced sopranos duetting to a pair of lutes below.

Best of all, you'll experience the almost ecstatic glow on the face of conductor Gardiner, as he inspires a rhythmically charged performance that could well earn him the
nickname of Lord of the Dance.

While the film's prowling camera allows us to explore the glories of this celebrated church, skilful editing catches the often dramatic cut-and-thrust between the Monteverdi Choir and instrumentalists from the English Baroque Soloists and His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts.

In an interview, printed as part of a splendid 88-page booklet, Gardiner reflects on a score he once described as knocking him out when he first heard it as a teenager.

Looking back now, remembering problems of the day ranging from striking technicians to barking dogs within microphone range, one realises the struggles and anxieties he conquered to make this unrivalled recording of Monteverdi's magnificent music.

What: Monteverdi, Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (Archiv)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: The perfect birthday present for the creator of modern music

29 Mar, 2017 9:00am
3 minutes to read