Philippe Herreweghe / La Chapelle Royale / Collegium Vocale / Les Sacqueboutiers

Claudio Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine

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Much as one might like Philippe Herreweghe as a musician and admire his work as a conductor of early music and choral music, one would have to admit that his 1987 Harmonia Mundi recording of Monteverdi's Vespro della beata Vergine with La Chapelle Royale, the Collegium Vocale Gent, and Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse, plus eight soloists is a huge disappointment. First, there's the sound. Although made during the digital era, Harmonia Mundi's sound is soft and soggy, with little depth and less definition. Second, there's Herreweghe's conducting, which is slack and sloppy, making Monteverdi's precisely expressive score sound sappy and sentimental. Third, there's Herreweghe's interpretation, which is diffuse and discursive, making Monteverdi's sacred masterpiece seem more like a series of disconnected episodes than a coherent whole. So while the soloists, choruses, and orchestra turn in performances of greater or lesser intensity, Harmonia Mundi and Herreweghe let them down every time. There are at least a dozen more focused and better-conducted versions of Monteverdi's Vespers available -- one thinks instantly of Savall's immensely spiritual performance and Gardiner's grandly dramatic performance -- and, however much one might like Herreweghe and admire his work, no persuasive reason to try this one.

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