Recording of the month: Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Vergine
Raphaël Pichon, Pygmalion, Céline Scheen, Perrine Devillers
Harmonia Mundi HMM90271011
This has to be one of the most gripping and impactful recordings of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 available right now, it is bursting with energy and passion at every opportunity. Recorded in January 2022, at the Temple du Saint-Esprit, Paris, it's the long-awaited studio recording that Lyndsay Kemp referred to when reviewing Pygmalion's live, pre-pandemic, DVD performance from the Versailles Royal Chapel. That this new album is so lived-in and confident is surely testament to the many concert performances that preceded it, in fact, the booklet contains a fascinating conversation between director Raphaël Pichon and the Rector of Bordeaux Cathedral, Jean-Clément Guez, who hosted several performances in 'spatialised son et lumière versions'. There is more to this story as Alexandra Coghlan described last month (10/23), Pinchon has a long relationship with Monteverdi’s Vespers and this is clear from the fluidity of ideas and gestures captured on this album.
Pinchon’s brisk and festive opening immediately highlights the excellence of his instrumentalists’ playing from cornett flourishes to busy, churning continuo textures. The choir has excellent diction, their half-whispered opening of Dixit Dominus is as gripping as is their taut and animated chanting later in the same psalm on Ex utero ante luciferum and Confregit in die irae... which accelerates thrillingly. Similarly, Laetatus sum is characterised by superb choral singing in the lesser doxology. I find the different approaches to the Gloria Patri sections on this disc are each joyful, but here the colourful collision of ornaments on the final Amen is especially ear-catching. The soloists are superb throughout: Céline Scheen & Perrine Devilles are well matched in Pulchra es and they are supported by a particularly luscious bed of plucked strings. But my attention returned again and again to the tenors —Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Zachary Wilder and Antonin Rondepierre — in Duo seraphim who boast a fine trillo. There are so many thoughtful touches where this trio are concerned: listen in particular for the treatment of Et hi tres unum sunt (and these three are one). And speaking of vocal ornaments there is a superb inflection from Wilder in Audi coelum.
This recording is hugely welcome will take a much-deserved place in my personal pantheon of greats. If you have any doubts just listen to the zippy recorder playing in Magnificat’s Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo... a flamboyant Mantuan moment that will surely stir the hardest of hearts.
For the full text of this review please see Gramophone magazine (November 2023)