Claudio Monteverdi: The Marian Vespers of 1610
Choir of New College, Oxford, cond. Edward Higginbottom
Charivari Agréable, dir. Kah-Ming Ng
The 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's Vespers has led to a blizzard of different performances. One of the most interesting can be heard on the inaugural CD of a label called Novum ... by the choir of New College, Oxford,. Assisted by a period-instrument group called Charivari Agréable, the young boys who make up this choir produce a wonderfully fresh sound: the rigorous daily training they receive from the age of eight puts them in the forefront of a tradition going back centuries, whose survival into this irreligious age is a miracle in itself. Michael Church, The Independent,1 October2010
BBC Music Magazine
The tenor soloists, Nicholas Mulroy and Thomas Hobbs, are ravishing in 'Duo Seraphim'...The instrumentalists of Charivari Agréable are on fine form; they add wonderful shape to the phrases in 'Esurientes', and combine thrillingly with the boys' voices in the 'Sonata sopra Sancta maria".
BBC Radio 3 CD Review "Building a Library"
[This is] the most striking of the four recordings which have been released since I last considered the Vespers for 'Building a Library' back in 2007. Edward Higginbottom draws wonderfully elegant and naturally expressive singing from his choir at New College, Oxford. This is the New College sound, and it serves the music very well indeed. The instrumental playing from the Oxford-based Charivari Agréable is, frankly, gorgeous. Because Higginbottom only uses instruments where the composer specifically directs, and not for doubling the voices at whim, when they finally get their moment in the Magnificat it comes as a wonderful, climactic treat. It seems astonishing that this brand new release – the first on the New College label – comes at mid price. And time and again I find myself coming back to this recording for its natural, unforced elegance and its finely controlled instrumental playing. .
Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 is a landmark work that is nevertheless subject to a great variety of interpretations, not only because of the way the voices can be deployed, but the instruments also, calling for rich instrumental forces that predate the era of the classical orchestra by well over 100 years. (The period instrumental sounds are one of the work's great delights. If you are new to this music, prepare for a revelation!). Choosing from the many fine available versions on CD therefore comes largely down to a matter of personal taste. But if you want a version with boys' and men's voices, the choice narrows considerably as this may be the only such version in the current catalogue. The question is, can it hold its own against the myriad adult/mixed choir versions, in terms of sonic excellence and musical integrity? The answer is a resounding yes - and then some! I have owned and enjoyed another highly-acclaimed and relatively recent version by The King's Consort, but this new recording by New College Oxford just blew me away. The boys sing like seasoned pros (which, of course, they are), with a wonderfully robust tone and perfect intonation. The sense of timing in some of the ornamented duets belies the age of these performers (note that all the soprano solos and duets are sung by boys, as well as the chorus parts). The band (Charivari Agreable) are also on a par with the King's Consort, and the recording - another critical factor in any recording of the Vespers - is wonderfully engineered. I've never heard the famous opening movement, Deus in Adjutorium, captured in such rich and clear detail. So many superlatives; can there be any disappointments? Well, for me, only one slightly disappointing moment: The Ave Maris Stella, one of the grandest motets, doesn't somehow sound quite as grand as it should. The Amen in particular left me feeling a tad underwhelmed. But full glory is restored in the closing Magnificat which is arguably the jewel in the entire crown. The Sonata A8 Sopra Sancta Maria, another great highlight, is also dazzlingly rendered in this Oxford performance. If you have read this far, don't hesitate, you need this recording, even if you have known and loved others. At the time of writing it wasn't available as a download, so it's one of the first physical CDs I've bought for some time. It is a handsomely packaged production.