Monteverdi Vespers (1610)
Ex Cathdedra Consort & Baroque Ensemble
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Birmingham Town Hall
3rd December 2017 4.00
Review: David Gray
Flawless reading of a Baroque Masterpiece
Monteverdi’s Vespers, as set of liturgical compositions suitable for use during the penultimate service in the Catholic Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, comes down to us in many editions, often performed and often recorded. As with so much music of antiquity, the extent to which the composition has been re-worked over the centuries means that the modern interpreter has many choices to make in terms of forces and form.
Conductor, Jeffrey Skidmore chose to use modest forces; ten singers, often singing one voice per part, effectively a chorus of soloists, and fourteen instrumentalists. This resulted in a clear, uncluttered texture which showcased the astonishing virtuosity of the performers and the amount of thought and detail put into the reading.
Monteverdi was composing at a time when opera, although still in its infancy, was making its influence felt through the increasing demands being placed on solo singers and their expressive and technical abilities. This operatic influence is felt in the Vespers, particularly in the Motets. Sung by one, two or three voices, with continuo accompaniment, the sensuous, at times almost erotic texts of these movements prompted Monteverdi to write complex, sinuous vocal lines to which all of the singers brought a high degree of vocal agility, absolute dynamic control and a broad palette of vocal coloration.
The workhorses charged with delivering the bulk of solo, duet and trio work in this performance were undoubtedly the four tenors, James Atherton, Paul Bentley-Agnell, Sean Clayton and Chris Fitzgerald-Lombard. An exquisite quartet of beautifully balanced voices that blended perfectly.
That said, full credit must go to all of the ten vocalists who, throughout, delivered singing at its most sensitive and nuanced, with each performer totally attentive to the others.
The band was similarly impressive, playing with great virtuosity and sensitivity and nicely driving the dance like energy of the work. A particular delight in the continuo sections were the two Theorbo players, Lynda Sayce and Silvana Scarinci, who provided telling, at time playful support to the vocal lines.
The addition of sagbutts and cornets gave the more expansive movements the requisite presence and grandeur. This did, however, give me my one moment of slightly diminished joy in the performance. During the Sancta Maria ora pro Nobis the four sopranos seemed to being pushing their voices to carry over the band.
I am picking. This was a very minor blemish on a performance otherwise without fault or flaw. A remarkable achievement.
Ex Cathedra Consort & Baroque Ensemble
Soprano Natlie Clifton-Griffith, Martha McLorinan, Katie Trethewey, Amy Wood
Tenor James Atherton, Paul Bentley-Angell, Sean Clayton, Chris Fitzgerald-Lombard
Bass Tom Flint, Lawrence White
Violin Lucy Rusell, Magda Loth-Hill
Viola Jonathan Rees
Theorbo Lynda Sayce, Silvana Scarinci
Organ Rupert Jeffcoat
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Cornett Jeremy West, Jamie Savan, Helen Roberts
Sagbutt Abigail Newman, Martyn Sanderson, Andy Harwood-White