It's not easy to pinpoint precisely what makes Christina Pluhar and L'Arpeggiata's performances of Baroque music, particularly Monteverdi, so extraordinary and distinctive, even in a time -- the early 21st century -- when (pardon the oxymoron) exceptionally fine recordings of this repertoire are the rule rather than the exception. One element may be the inventiveness of her realizations of the continuo part. Composers of the early Baroque generally wrote only a bass line for the accompaniment, an indication of the harmony, and occasionally a specification as to what instruments should be used, leaving the choice of the actual notes to be played, and usually, which instruments to the discretion of the performer. On this recording, for example, Pluhar uses at various times Baroque harp, psaltery (a hammered dulcimer), two small organs, violas da gamba, archlutes, and theorbos to create fresh, richly textured, and varied accompaniments, and the figures they play are imaginative and nuanced. A second element may be her choice of vocalists. Pluhar tends to use singers who are not international stars but who have voices with great character and individuality but are also team players, able to blend with the group. Perhaps her distinctiveness is a result of her uncanny affinity for music of this era, of which this recording of Monteverdi's Vespro della beata vergine is further evidence; the performance practically shimmers with energy and vitality. Although at 75 minutes, it is 15 minutes shorter than the usual performance of the piece, it unfolds not with any sense of hurry, but with a lively momentum that feels entirely natural. The purity, warmth, and fervor of the vocal performances is outstanding throughout. Each of the 12 singers is featured as a soloist or in a small ensemble, and the singing is so consistently gorgeous that it seems unfair to single out individuals, but tenors Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro, Markus Brutscher, and Jan van Elsacker in "Duo Seraphim," and sopranos Núria Rial and Raquel Andueza in "Pulchra es" particularly stick in the memory. Virgin Classics' sound is, as usual, immaculate, balanced, and the resonance is ideal: spacious, but still intimate. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Vespro Della Beata Vergine|