Early music specialist and performer Paul McCreesh has spent over 20 years studying and conducting Monteverdi's Vespro della beata vergine and brings authority to his realization of a work (or collection of works) whose ambiguous score has left generations of scholars debating the Vespers' appropriate instrumentation, the ordering of movements, the correct performing keys of some movements, the use of interpolated music from other sources, and questions of whether certain eccentricities are the composer's intention or merely printer's errors. While we can never know exactly what the original performance sounded like, McCreesh's performance with his 12-voice Gabrieli Consort and Players makes a compelling case for his artistic decisions. This version holds together an incredibly diverse musical (and liturgical) experience, including plainchant, delicately accompanied solos, accompanied vocal ensembles for two to 10 voices and full chorus, as well as instrumental ensembles and organ improvisations, and takes advantage of the antiphonal separation that would have been an integral part of the original performances. Stylistically, the music is all over the map, including plainchant, and an assortment of Renaissance and Baroque conventions, but McCreesh is entirely successful in presenting these heterogeneous elements in a way that coheres musically and emotionally.
The enjoyment of a predominantly choral performance depends largely on the sound of the choral ensemble, and the Gabrieli Consort, which is usually broken into smaller ensembles here, sings with a richly blended, pure, and focused tone and with exquisite phrasing. The quality of the individual voices, which are frequently highlighted, and of the chorus as a whole, is straightforward, direct, and unmannered. The soloists negotiate the nearly impossible coloratura in movements such as the serenely ethereal men's trio, "Duo Seraphim," with astonishing facility. The instrumental ensemble provides unobtrusive but colorful accompaniment and shines when it performs alone. The recorded sound is ideal, resonant with about being boomy, and clearly capturing the delicate details of the score, as well as conveying the essential spatial relationships between the groups of performers.