Reviewed by John Irvine
This is an attempt to recreate what worship at St Mark's in Venice would have sounded like 350 years ago. Liturgy, ceremony and music were the three principal elements in services at St Mark's and this is reflected in the blend of plainchant, organ pieces and the Psalms, motets and hymns in praise of the Virgin Mary recorded here, all written by the top composers of the day. 1643 was the year Monteverdi died, and he is represented by four pieces. Other composers include Coralli, who was (successively) singer, organist and maestro at St Marks; Grandi, the finest motet writer of the period; and Rigatti who was both a priest and a singer in St Mark's choir. The top musicians played at St Mark's and only the finest singers were permitted to be part of the choir, since the church catered for the rich and powerful. Vespers in particular became a 'concert spiritual' with motets, Psalms and hymns replacing spoken texts, with the obvious danger that human ingenuity and technical brilliance could obscure worship of God. This was a period of great change in church music: soon after the style of compositions featured here began to leave the church for the concert hall, never to return. In many ways the church lost something through this, although the rich and powerful continued to enjoy this music through their patronage of the arts. As an historical album, then, 'Venetian Vespers' shows how segregated worship could be in the 17th century - only the rich were permitted to enjoy musical excellence. Today, however, through the medium of the CD player; ordinary people can 'get into' St Mark's and enjoy the authentic sound of 17th century music and instruments. The compositions themselves would be a delight on any album - Finetti's "O Maria Quae Rapis Corda Hominum" is quite exquisitely beautiful. This is an outstanding album of early church music and an essential recording. Pity it's not available on tape, though.
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