You don't have to think hard to remember a time when almost any recording of Monteverdi's great sacred masterwork Vespro della Beata Vergine (also known as his "1610 Vespers") was in some way deficient; either by way of bad singing, too heavy a realization of the continuo, what have you. Fast forward to the twenty first century and you have an embarrassment of riches in terms of very well done Monteverdi Vespers, among them the very fine 2006 version by Robert King and the King's Consort, to which end Hyperion put its most determined effort in the post-Ted Perry era and turned out, to everyone's surprise, to be Robert King's swansong with the group named after him. Therefore, it is a little surprising that Challenge Classics and Sigiswald Kuijken would enter this crowded arena with their Vespro della Beata Vergine with La Petite Bande; after all, there is very little for any band, no matter how "petit," to do in Monteverdi's Vespers. Moreover, this recording is no exception, by the most part given to the singers employed and long stretches only covered with an organ continuo. The singers, while generally very good, sing only one to a part and the overall effect is rather Spartan. Crisper execution of ornaments would not have hurt the "Duo Seraphim" and the echo effects in "Audi Coelum" aren't very convincing; otherwise, this Challenge recording is transparent inasmuch as the singing is concerned, which is appropriately Italianate in style and based in madrigal tradition rather than in a strictly "sacred" manner of delivery or one stemming from the influence of Monteverdi's brand of opera. However, one thing this recording is not is inspired; it is pleasing to the ear, but does not carry one off to the heavens, as something about it remains consistently earthbound. Part of it might be the bright, snappy, and same-ish tempi employed throughout; the King's Consort recording lasts something like 18 minutes longer than this one. Sigiswald Kuijken deliberately sat out leading the singers in a conventional sense, and while this affords them plenty of room to stretch out, they don't, and the performance as a whole lacks shaping.
When the whole of La Petite Bande comes into play, which isn't often, it can sound pretty terrific. While Challenge Classics' Claudio Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine is better than average in some ways, and that average has been set high indeed; a bit more investment in the front end of this realization, in terms of fleshing out the continuo and parsing out some phrases, might have gone a long way in making it more of a contender.