Last month’s concert by Voices of Music in San Francisco involved a rather unique reconstruction of a Christmas Vespers service that might have been held in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice in the year 1630. The settings for the five Psalms of the service (109, 110, 111, 112, and 116) were by Alessandro Grandi, who had served as vice maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, making him “second in command” to Claudio Monteverdi. The remaining sections of the service drew upon music by Claudio Monteverdi and Tarquinio Merula.
At the beginning of this month Voices of Music released its latest HD video to YouTube, and the performance was taken from this concert. The selection is Monteverdi’s setting of “Cantate Domino canticum novum” (sing to the Lord a new song), which combines verses from Psalm 96 and Psalm 98. The setting pairs three vocal lines for two sopranos (Laura Heimes and Jennifer Ellis Kampani) and one baritone (John Taylor Ward) with three instrumental lines for two violins (Carla Moore and Elizabeth Blumenstock) and one viola (Lisa Grodin), resulting in some of Monteverdi’s richest polyphonic writing. The continuo is provided by William Skeen on gamba, David Tayler on archlute, and Hanneke van Proosdij on organ.
The other upload from this concert currently available on YouTube is “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire” (now that it's time to sleep), a “spiritual canzonetta” composed by Merula in 1639 (a slight departure from music for the 1630 service). Compared to the Monteverdi motet, this depiction of the Virgin Mary watching her sleeping baby and experiencing a waking dream about his future involves an elaborate soprano line sung (by Kampani) over a bass line consisting of only two repeated notes. Those notes are first performed (with harmonic embellishment) by Tayler’s archlute, which is then joined, as the song unfolds, by Skeen’s gamba and Proosdij’s organ. This song is practically operatic in its rhetoric and was one of the most memorable selections of the full concert.