Monteverdi: Missa in illo tempore, Magnificat a 6 voci

Ensemble Corund, Stephen Smith
Spektral SRL4-17159

The Ensemble Corund was founded by Stephen Smith who has lived and worked in Switzerland since 1982. They are based in Lucerne, and this CD of Monteverdi’s six-voice – Cantus, Sextus, Altus, Tenor, Quintus and Bassus -sacred works published in the volume dedicated to Pope Paul V and published in 1610, where the other works comprise what we know as the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is sung two to a part by four mean-range sopranos, and two each of hautescontres, tenors, low tenors and basses. The singers are clean and well blended and arrive at a comfortable pitch by singing the mass based on B flat at 415 (which is I suspect what the organ is tuned to, rather than on G at 465 or even higher as the surviving organs in North Italy of the period would suggest as the basic pitch there in the early 17th century): there is no detail about the pitch, organ, theorbo (inaudible till the magnificat – or was it only used there?), edition or anything else of HIP interest). The Magnificat à 6 is sung down a fourth at 440, as the clefs imply.

The singing is attractive both for the blend and balance of the clear voices, and for the fact that the ensemble creates a warmth of tone without any hint of vibrato.  The singers – Sara Jäggi of Vox Luminis among them – retain a welcome clarity in the sections where close imitation can lead to fogginess in a larger acoustic or with less disciplined voices. As far as I can tell, it was recorded in a studio, but the acoustic has quite a grateful give.

In the Magnificat, I am occasionally taken by surprise by the style of the realisation of the organ part which does not always seem to me in character with the vocal writing. Singers sing the duet and solo lines unfussily, and thanks to the downward transposition the voices are comfortable in their range. The liner notes – where a whole double page is left blank – are spectacularly uninformative: a page on the ensemble and a page on the director in both English and German, followed by the text in Latin, German and English is all that there is. Nonetheless, I like this performance: it is clear, undemonstrative and musical in its shaping of the sections of the mass where the conductor is not afraid to vary the tempo in the longer numbers, for example, and this sensitivity to the word-setting as well as the occasional homophonic sections – like the Incarnatus and the Benedictus – makes this recording a welcome addition to those available.

David Stancliffe

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