Artek’s program, titled “Rosenmüller: Christmas Vespers,” was not quite that. It was “a collection of music that was almost certainly performed at Venetian vespers services,” Gwendolyn Toth, the group’s director, explained in program notes. Brevity was evidently not a Rosenmüller hallmark, and “doing a complete vespers,” Ms. Toth wrote, “would be a very full evening.” As it was, the densely packed program ran almost two and a half hours.
It would be nice to report that the performances, conducted by Ms. Toth, made the time fly. They did not. In some ways they recalled the early days of the modern early-music movement, a half century ago, when point-making in performance practice was sometimes allowed to eclipse accomplished and attractive music-making.
Ms. Toth spent much space discussing niceties of pitch and tuning undoubtedly lost on most listeners, advocating “1/4-comma mean-tone,” which required the player of the positive organ, Dongsok Shin, to retune his instrument between several numbers. But the real problems were much more fundamental and immediate.
Apart from fine work by those playing strings and especially the trombone-like sackbuts, the performances had serious flaws, mainly stemming from the work of a few singers well past their prime. This is probably a minority report, to judge by the ovations from a sizable audience.
At any rate, the point was driven home the next night by the fresh, strong singing of Tenet. The Green Mountain Project, named for Monteverdi, has made a calling card of his great 1610 Vespers, one performance better than the last. Here it turned to his “Selva Morale e Spirituale” (“Spiritual and Moral Forest”), a large collection of sacred music published late in his life.
The first half presented six singers, led by the soprano Jolle Greenleaf, in works of moderate scale. The second separated the vocalists into duets and soloists before reassembling them for a big, magnificent finale, “Beatus Vir.” Especially notable in the smaller works were Ms. Greenleaf and her usual partner, the soprano Molly Quinn, in “Iste Confessor”; and the lone bass, John Taylor Ward, in “Ab Aeterno Ordinata Sum,” a showpiece that took him to the very bottom of his range.
Tenet’s instrumentalists broke up the program with substantial works by Nicolò Corradini, Giovanni Gabrieli and Giovanni Battista Fontana, allowing the two superb violinists, Aisslinn Nosky and Beth Wenstrom, to do some duetting of their own. In Gabrieli’s “Sonata XXI con Tre Violini,” the two excellent cornetto players, Alexandra Opsahl and Kiri Tollaksen, were joined by a third, Bruce Dickey, a renowned American virtuoso said to be visiting from his home in Italy.
But Monteverdi was clearly the star, exceedingly well served. Thus ended his 450th-anniversary year in New York.