MONTEVERDI Marien-Vesper / Gardiner 4295652

For incisive choral singing and sheer theatrical excitement, this has few rivals. The choir pounces on every dramatic and textual detail, and the soloists project with bags of weight and vibrato. Big and thrilling.

. . . the glorious acoustics and intricate architecture provided a sumptuous stage for the performers. Their approach is high-octane -- dramatic, sensual and highly inflected -- and in their balance between theatrical excitement and glittering grandeur they capture the very essence of Venetian flamboyance. One of the most thrillingly atmospheric recordings of Baroque choral music ever made.

Gardiner shows us that the vespers are a Halloween House of Horrors . . . Throughout the recording, he skillfully locates the squirty-flowers and the Cheshire grins, before playing them loud and clear . . . Brass instruments rambling away underneath the vocal monophony, and the garish deliverance of "Alleluia," are tempered by Gardiner's control of the tempo and the dynamics . . . The way Gardiner handles the intimidating grandness is very simple: He just says it simply. Throughout the recording, the huge exclamations are just enunciated carefully and coldly, which is exactly right. It leaves us without that twang of pretentiousness . . . The Ninth Vesper needs a special mention. The recording is worth having just for this alone . . . There is an extraordinary delicacy in the melismatic writing, carefully drawn out by Gardiner's lush, slow pulse, where liberal rubato feels like lament and fatigue . . . his understanding of Monteverdi's word-setting is learned and extensive: however, the relationship between Gardiner and his solo vocalist pulls away from all knowledge and experience, and feels like a fresh exchange. The performance (and recording decisions) give us the feeling that this has never been said before, at least not with such spontaneity, with such care and energy . . . What makes this recording of Monteverdi's vespers so unique, given the wide range of other recordings available, is that the music feels like a pageant of people, not a score . . . Gardiner knowingly gives each of Monteverdi's tonal contrasts a face, a pair of expressive hands. We leave it feeling like we have been to a town, not a concert hall. It is uniquely expressive.