First published in the Guardian on 23 November, 2017
Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale
Balthasar Neumann Choir & Ensemble / Heras-Casado (Harmonia Mundi)
The name of this 1640 collection means ‘moral and spiritual forest’ and it is Monteverdi in the most exploratory mood — the culmination of his three decades as maestro di cappella at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, with its sumptuous acoustic and crack instrumental band and 40-piece choir to match. You’ll find everything from grand ensembles to intimate solo confessionals, and this recording is best suited to the latter. That’s because conductor Pablo Heras-Casado has a tendency to over-shape the bigger stuff, to traffic-control the corners and smooth out the ride. With Monteverdi we need the rough and the spontaneous. But individual musicians and singers of the Balthasar Neumann are wonderful and they shine in their nimble duos and trios — try the piercingly delivered Salve Regina from sopranos Magdalene Harer and Julia Kirchner.