Green Mountain Project: Vespro della Beata Vergine

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About

TENET Vocal Artists, NYC’s pre-eminent early music ensemble, releases a CD of the final performance of its Green Mountain Project. For the past ten years, the Green Mountain Project has been made up of some of the best Baroque specialists in the United States for concerts of Claudio Monteverdi’s iconic Vespers of 1610 (Vespro della Beata Vergine). This live recording is a culmination of years of musical collaborations, and a celebration of the artists and supporters who made the past decade of performances possible.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 89:58

Vespers of 1610

01Deus in adiutorium/Domine ad adiuvandum (Versicle & Response)
Deus in adiutorium/Domine ad adiuvandum (Versicle & Response)
2:17
02Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109)
Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109)
8:26
03Nigra sum (Motet for one voice)
Nigra sum (Motet for one voice)
3:48
04Laudate pueri (Psalm 112)
Laudate pueri (Psalm 112)
6:38
05Pulchra es (Motet for two voices)
Pulchra es (Motet for two voices)
4:02
06Laetatus sum (Psalm 121)
Laetatus sum (Psalm 121)
7:12
07Duo seraphim (Motet for three voices)
Duo seraphim (Motet for three voices)
6:25
08Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126)
Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126)
4:55
09Audi coelum (Motet for one voice, and at the end for six voices)
Audi coelum (Motet for one voice, and at the end for six voices)
8:23
10Lauda Jerusalem (Psalm 147)
Lauda Jerusalem (Psalm 147)
4:28
11Sonata sopra Sancta Maria ora pro nobis
Sonata sopra Sancta Maria ora pro nobis
6:58
12Ave maris stella (Hymn)
Ave maris stella (Hymn)
7:35
13Magnificat
Magnificat
0:47
14Et exultavit
Et exultavit
1:20
15Quia respexit
Quia respexit
1:48
16Quia fecit
Quia fecit
1:19
17Et misericordia
Et misericordia
1:49
18Fecit potentiam
Fecit potentiam
0:58
19Deposuit potentes
Deposuit potentes
2:22
20Esurientes
Esurientes
1:22
21Suscepit Israel
Suscepit Israel
1:15
22Sicut locutus est
Sicut locutus est
0:56
23Gloria Patri
Gloria Patri
2:33
24Sicut erat in principio
Sicut erat in principio
2:22

In 1610 Claudio Monteverdi was 43 years old and had long been employed at the Gonzaga court in the northern Italian city of Mantua, where he was overworked, underpaid, and unhappy. Monteverdi had good reason to think that he was one of the greatest musicians of the age and he was eager to find stable employment in a more welcoming and more salubrious environment. While there is no proof, many scholars believe that the great publication of 1610 from which TENET’s performance of the Vespers is drawn represents Monteverdi’s bid for a job working for the Pope at the Vatican.

Monteverdi’s 1610 collection supplies polyphonic settings of the Mass, the Vespers response, all five psalms required for Vespers on a Marian feast, the Marian hymn Ave maris stella, and two versions of the Magnificat. There are also those five non-liturgical items that Monteverdi calls “sacred songs” which may be intended as antiphon substitutes. In short, the publication provides almost all the music one might desire for a sumptuous celebration of Mass and Vespers on a great Marian feast day.

The collection shows off everything Monteverdi might offer a prospective employer. On the one hand, he could compose according to the strictest rules of 16th-century counterpoint (the Mass). On the other, he could combine the most ancient melodies of the Church (plainchant) with the most up-to-date compositional style (in the psalms, hymn, and two Magnificats). The “sacred songs” or motets emphasize his mastery of virtuosic vocal writing and his ability to break the old rules of counterpoint in order to heighten the effect of the text, while the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria and the concerted Magnificat demonstrate his command of instrumental techniques.

Despite dedicating this magnificent dossier to the Pope, Monteverdi did not get a job at the Vatican. Three years later, however, he was appointed maestro di cappella at St Mark’s in Venice, the most prestigious ecclesiastical position in northern Italy. He remained in the post, honored and celebrated by the Most Serene Republic, until his death in 1643.

Born in 1567, Monteverdi was a musician with one foot in the Renaissance and one in the Baroque; indeed, he was one of the principal innovators who created the new style on the foundation of the old. The 1610 collection, which was assembled in part from pre-existing music, is a dazzling anthology of musical styles. It looks now to the strict polyphony of the 16th century, now to the harmonic audacities of the basso continuo era, answering (for example) the massive polychoral splendor of Nisi Dominus with the astonishing solo virtuosity and echo effects (both textual and musical) of Audi coelum—all leading to the most directly personal and touching moment of the work, when six singers address the Virgin directly: “Blessed art thou, Virgin Mary, world without end.” The Vespers of 1610 juxtaposes old and new, spiritual and theatrical, solo and choral, personal and hieratic. Finally, the foundation of this most modern work is built on plainchant cantus firmus, the oldest music of the Christian church.

The 1610 Vespers is, in short, one of the most profound, most spiritual, most historically aware, most musically audacious, most entertaining and deeply moving variety shows ever conceived, sure to sound as fresh and vivid at its five hundredth anniversary in 2110 as it does today.

Artistic Director: Jolle Greenleaf

Music Director: Jeffrey Grossman

Recorded live at Church of St. Jean Baptiste, New York City, January 2–3, 2020

Recording engineer: Ryan Streber

Assistant engineer: Charles Mueller

Mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio

Green Mountain Project

The Green Mountain Project began with a 400th anniversary performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 on Sunday, January 3, 2010. It was a momentous occasion that brought together a cast of 29 musicians and 800 audience members at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City. Spearheaded by co-directors Jolle Greenleaf and Scott Metcalfe, the concert was offered free to the public, and received a rave review from The New York Times. Thus began the tradition of offering annual performances of works by Monteverdi and his contemporaries, and solidifying a place in the city’s musical landscape.

In 2012, Jolle Greenleaf brought the Green Mountain Project under the institutional umbrella of TENET Vocal Artists to ensure the project had an organizational home and financial security. Under her artistic direction, TENET Vocal Artists has won acclaim for its innovative programming, virtuosic singing and command of repertoire that spans the Middle Ages to the present day. Highlights of recent seasons include performances of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, Bach’s motets, Handel’s Messiah, a three-year cycle of Carlo Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories, regular performances of works by Purcell and his contemporaries celebrating St. Cecilia (music’s patron saint), two medieval survey series (The Sounds of Time and The Cycle of Invention), and original theatrical performances highlighting works composed by, for, and about women in 17th century Italy. Renowned for their interpretations of Renaissance and Baroque repertoire, TENET Vocal Artists’ distinguished soloists have been praised for their pristine one-voice-to-a-part singing “to an uncanny degree of precision” (The Boston Globe).

During the project’s decade-long history, the Green Mountain Project performed Monteverdi’s works in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to glowing reviews, sold-out audiences, and in radio broadcasts. The cast of the Green Mountain Project includes America’s best early music vocal and instrumental specialists, including Dark Horse Consort brass ensemble. In addition to performing Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, the Green Mountain Project offered reconstructed Vespers by Scott Metcalfe. For the final offering in 2020, the Green Mountain Project performed Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 in New York City, and for the first time in Venice, Italy, in homage to the location where Monteverdi lived and worked for thirty years, and was buried. TENET Vocal Artists and the Green Mountain Project wish to share their incredible gratitude to the musicians, supporters, fans, and patrons of the project as they all shared in the project’s extraordinary journey.


Reviews

5

Classical Music Sentinel

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was not only an exceptional musician; he was great because of the power of meditation and poetical concentration, the seriousness and perseverance which he applied in the pursuit of his ideals. He was the first artist to revive the spirit of antique tragedy and create a music drama which was classical and modern at the same time. He was the creative musical genius whose aim was not the realization of the ideals of the distant past but the expression of the life and ardor that was in him. His grandiose imagination, his colorfulness, the never-abating richness of his musical invention, his tragic rhythm and astounding force of dramatic expression could not find an adequate field in the musical forms of his time. When the greatest musical genius of the early baroque speaks of a "seconda prattica musicale", he announced to the world that an entirely new musical style had been born, and that he was embarking on a "second", that is, new, musical practice." {Paul Henry Lang - Music in Western Civilization - 1941}

As I had mentioned before in a previous review, Claudio Monteverdi lived during a crucial period of profound change in music. The shift from late Renaissance to early Baroque, when composers were becoming more concerned with the meaning and feeling behind the words they set to music. Henceforth vocal music was supposed to derive the rules of its development more from the words than from the cantus firmus. The number of excellent madrigal composers at that time was large, and Monteverdi was one of the best at capturing the impetus and momentum of this new free and passionate art. The work in question here, the Vespro della Beata Vergine, was apparently not conceived as a whole, but was constructed out of various songs and madrigals written at different times, that came together to form one of the most ambitious sacred works of that period.

In this recording captured live at the Church of St. Jean Baptiste, New York City, in January 2020, the Tenet Vocal Artists along with the Dark Horse Consort, as part of their Green Mountain Project (appropriately named since Monteverdi is Italian for Green Mountain), provide a performance that well underpins the music's revitalized spirit. Not surprising when you consider that they set this project in motion with a 400th anniversary performance of this work in January of 2010, and have presented it in many cities, including Venice, ever since. With a single voice to each part and a small ensemble of cornetts, sackbuts, theorbos, organ and strings, the sound is clear and powerful without being opaque. The audio recording also well captures and projects the building's open acoustics, which augments the scope and size of the ensemble. Sit back and listen, and your favorite chair may well become a time-travel machine that takes you back 400 years.

— Jean-Yves Duperron, 9.01.2020

5

New York Music Daily

Taken out of historical context, the Green Mountain Project’s final January 2020 concert performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 – streaming at Bandcamp – is epically electrifying. Considering the hideous events of the past nine months, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Outside of Sweden, Nicaragua, Moscow and a few (slowly growing) parts of the world, it is illegal to either perform, or invite audiences to attend. How fortuitous it was that the ensemble decided to go out when they did – with a bang. This is a particularly high-voltage performance.

Choir directors Jolle Greenleaf and Scott Metcalfe first staged the iconic Renaissance choral work at St. Mary’s Church in midtown Manhattan in January of 2010. It became an annual tradition, finally winding up a year ago, the impassioned voices joined by strings, the period brass of the Dark Horse Consort, and organist Jeffrey Grossman. This massive double live album isn’t quite the complete show: brief, more mundane moments of call-and-response have been omitted. The group sing it at a slightly elevated Venetian pitch, as choirs where the composer was employed four centuries ago would have. Another fascinating accession to tradition is that most of the mass is sung one voice to a particular part, and every one of the soloists rises to the occasion.

Maybe because this is a concert recording, there are places where the instruments are as loud as the voices, occasionally even more so, everyone benefiting from the space’s immense amounts of natural reverb. The choir and instrumentalists handle Monteverdi’s intertwining counterpoint effortlessly and seem to relish hitting the big swells. Angels duel in strong, elegant, melismatic vocalese. Women soar over the men’s steady river of lows and the lustrously balanced orchestration: the wordless sonata that opens the second disc is a lush, majestic highlight.

Another welcome feature that older listeners typically take for granted is that this recording is divided up into a mere 24 tracks, a handful of which go on for almost ten minutes at a time. It’s not quite the equivalent of a vinyl record, but happily this album eschews the recent and incredibly annoying tendency for record labels to slice classical pieces up into dozens of fragments, presumably to maximize Spotify nanopayments.

— Delarue, 1.09.2021

5

Fanfare

The Vespers was sung at a concert in a New York church a year ago, using one voice to a part with the seven-voice Magnificat. Chant antiphons (first Vespers of the Purification, February 2) were also included at the concert, but they were edited out of the recording. There is a pre-history of the Green Mountain Project dating back exactly 10 years to a 400th anniversary performance of the same work, followed by annual concerts of Baroque music with the ensemble.

This is a fine performance of the music comparable to John Butt (Fanfare 41:3) and Rinaldo Alessandrini (28:4), who likewise use one voice to a part. All have about the same number of singers and players, but only Alessandrini adds the second Magnificat. Grossman and Butt both use the higher pitch, a’=466, and all three transpose the two chiavette movements down by a fourth. Each has three tenors who can sing Duo seraphim to fine effect. Grossman’s singers and players are second to none in this music.

There are other choices among recordings of this music. For a larger number of singers, Jörg Breiding (35:6) has 45 singers and inserts chant antiphons, as so many do. Harry Christophers (38:4) has 22 singers and renders the two chiavette movements twice, first as written, then repeated at the end at the transposed pitch. Masaaki Suzuki (25:2) also has 22 singers with 24 players, adding the second Magnificat and the Missa In illo tempore to deliver a complete recording of the 1610 publication. The last two do not add any chant. A liturgical reconstruction is a more extreme approach, such as Paul McCreesh’s (30:5), which involves rearranging the order of movements, adding instrumental works by other composers, and filling in the bits of liturgical chant that belong to Vespers; unlike others who took this approach, however, McCreesh uses only solo singers.

The 16-page booklet includes a three-page note, texts with English translation, and three color photos of the ensemble. The 10 singers and 16 players are named. Scott Metcalfs’s name occurs prominently in connection with this recording for his “inspiring leadership” of the project and his booklet notes. The discography of this work, over 70 recordings during nearly the same number of years, is a testament to the evolving performance practice of Baroque music. It is remarkable that Grossman can give us a superb performance that offers no surprises, for its excellence would not have been taken almost for granted in the past. Recommended to anyone who does not have one of several similar performances.

— J.F. Weber, 1.28.2021