As we are reminded in the informative liner notes of this new recording of Claudio Monteverdi’s sacred masterpiece, Vespers is an early evening prayer service, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, fulfilling Jesus’ command to “pray always.” Replete with psalm texts, a hymn and the Magnificat (the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary) Vespers is designed to be contemplative and Monteverdi’s setting is miraculous in its variety of textures, virtuosity and hypnotic harmonies. In addition, it marries Renaissance and Baroque musical styles with staggering beauty and uniformity, featuring a wide array of vocal and instrumental writing.
The Thirteen was founded in 2012 in Washington, D.C. by Matthew Robertson and the group has a wide mandate, performing music from all eras, specializing in early and contemporary choral works and educational outreach. Their recording of Vespers – in collaboration with the Children’s Chorus of Washington and the early winds of the Dark Horse Consort – took place in the reverberant acoustic of Washington’s Franciscan Monastery.
The solo and small ensemble singing is uniformly excellent, including a radiant Nigra Sum sung by soprano Michele Kennedy, a sumptuous Pulchra es sung by sopranos Molly Quinn and Katelyn Jackson and a tour de force Duo Seraphim from tenors Aaron Sheehan, Stephen Soph and Oliver Mercer. The chorus and instrumental ensemble bring a suitable glory and grandeur to the performance: 90 minutes of life-affirming, provocative “new” music, written over 400 years ago.