Vespers of 1610

Monteverdi
Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610)

Carolyn Sampson & Rebecca Outram (sopranos)
Charles Humphries (countertenor)
Daniel Auchincloss & Nicholas Mulroy (high tenors)
Charles Daniels, James Gilchrist & Matthew Vine (tenors)
Charles Potts & Robert Macdonald (basses)

Choir of The King’s Consort

The King’s Consort
Robert King


Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 31 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, in Robert King’s own performing edition, was a marvel of compromise between coping with an inappropriate acoustic (given the size of the forces present) and preserving the subtlety of the writing, both vocal and instrumental. From the majestic opening versicle and response (with its famous recycled instrumental toccata from Orfeo), singers and instrumentalists wove their way deftly through rich psalm settings, Marian motets, the sublime ‘Sonata sopra Sancta Maria’ (an ornate instrumental decoration of the words “Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis” intoned by sopranos alone) and the hymn “Ave maris stella” before reaching the glorious “Magnificat”.

The versicle “Deus in adiutorium” having been splendidly intoned by a solitary baritone from the organ console (lit from above by a single spotlight), the chorus and orchestra responded with a rich, sonorous ‘Domine ad adiuvandum’ (accompanied by a blaze of light in true rock-concert fashion!). Questionable lighting aside, the rhythmic incisiveness, ease of articulation and overall balance evinced by this opening proved to be prescient. A wonderful “Dixit Dominus” ensued, ending in a hushed amen during which two theorbo players and tenor James Gilchrist moved to the top left of the choir stalls for a wonderfully free interpretation of the motet “Nigra sum”. Gilchrist’s tenor had no problems whatsoever in coping with the large space before him; Monteverdi’s word-painting brought to life by his firm, clear tone.

And so the performance progressed, a continual exchange between soloists and tutti: a very crisp “Laudate pueri” with an ornamental “amen” executed to perfection by two tenor soloists; a sensitive “Pulchra es” performed by sopranos Carolyn Sampson and Rebecca Outram (this time from the top right-hand of the choir stalls); back to tutti again with the astonishing triple theme-and-variations of “Laetatus sum”. “Duo Seraphim” had tenors Gilchrist and Charles Daniels in the heavens (for which read top middle of choir stalls), joined by Matthew Vine at the words “Tres sunt…” (There are three who give testimony in Heaven…). “The Nisi Dominus with its alernatim use of double choirs then led to the beautiful ‘echo’ motet “Audi coelum”, with Daniels’s expressive handling of each verse commented upon by Gilchrist’s echoing the last syllables (and thereby forming a new word) from the top of the choir stalls.

Finally came the grand “Lauda Ierusalem”, a fine performance of the “Sonata sopra Sancta Maria” (though I prefer Andrew Parrott’s approach of having a soloists sing the petition above the instrumental lines), “Ave Maris Stella” (the five-part instrumental ritornelli being played alternately by strings and brass to great effect), and the concluding “Magnificat”, where soloists, chorus and orchestra again reaffirmed their affinity both for this music and this mode of performance. One looks forward to the CD incarnation, due out soon from Hyperion as part of King’s ongoing survey of Monteverdi’s sacred music.

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