With its cavernous space, lush acoustic, and atmosphere of ancient and profound spiritual mystery, Hereford Cathedral is the ideal space in which to experience Monteverdi’s choral masterwork, the Vespers of 1610. This seminal work straddles and incorporates the old polyphonic compositional techniques of the renaissance and the new highly expressive and text driven monody style of writing characteristic of the early baroque. It presents many challenges for the performer. And these performers rose to meet those challenges head on.
A top notch sextet of soloists all sang with astonishing technical accomplishment, flowing with ease and grace through the fiendishly difficult passage work, and ornamenting with style and elegance. The words were treated as essential musical elements; used to energise the vocal line and reinforce the lyricism of the phrasing but always imparted with conviction and meaning. The result was a true complementary partnership between text and music.
Great attention was paid to blending by all the soloists, but special mention must be made of the two tenors, Gwilym Bowen and Guy Cutting, who dueted with real attention and sensitivity to one another. They literally physically leaned into the dissonances. Their echo effects were wonderfully imitative.
Hereford Choral Society sang with tone both strong and mellow. As with the soloists, there was much attention to ensemble and detail. It is a shame that the shape of the space did not lend itself to the choirs being separated to accentuate the antiphonal effects. This might have cleared up a slight muddiness of texture in some of the more densely written passages. The sopranos struggled to maintain energy during Sancta Maria, where they were called upon to sustain a long slow Cantus Firmus. This was a shame. Otherwise the choral singing was exemplary.
Marches Baroque played with precision and sensitivity and achieved a tight ensemble with the soloists. Alas, they got a bit swamped during the grander choral sections. This was particularly noticeable during the open chorus, where the choir sing on a monotone and the musical interest lies in the orchestral toccata underneath. Here the toccata was barely audible.
This is increasingly and issue where large choral societies go for authenticity in early music. The smaller bands involved invariably result in balance problems.
That aside, this was a polished, detailed and beautifully sung reading that totally captured the power, majesty and wonder of this miraculous work.
Conductor – Geraint Bowen, Sopranos – Aiofe Miskelly & Gwendoline Martin, Tenors – Gwilym Bowen & Guy Cutting, Bass Baritones – David Ireland & Jonathan Brown, Organist – Peter Dyke,
The Hereford Choral Society