Saturday 11 September 2010

Monteverdi Vespers at the Proms

On Friday we went to our final Prom to see John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, a work which Gardiner first conducted in 1964 and conducted it a the Proms in 1968. Gardiner performed the work as a concert piece, pretty much as printed, with no attempt at liturgical reconstruction, without transposing movements down and with quite large scale forces. The Monteverdi Choir numbered some 35 singers and they were joined by the London Oratorio Junior Choir and the Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

Gardiner's speeds were quite spacious, so that the music had time to tell in the spaces of the Albert Hall. But the Vespers isn't all large scale music, a great deal of it is written for small forces, soloists accompanied by continuo, or choir and these worked well also. Gardiner used the space available, so that the echo effects came from the balcony, and the children's choir sang much of its contribution from there as well.

In fact, Gardiner's way with the music was positively Romantic at times, as he shaped paragraphs both in terms of speed and dynamics. But Gardiner has lived with the work a long time and the whole worked as one superb structure. It helped of course that he had the fine support of the Monteverdi choir producing some finely shaded singing. Generally I veer to the one voice per part school of thought in this style of music, but when the performance is as fine, and as well considered as then, then resistance crumbles. Solos were taken by members of the choir with some outstanding contributions from tenors Andrew Tortise and Peter Davorem and sopranos Emanuela Galli and Lenneke Ruiten.

Academically there is a strong case for performing the Magnificat transposed down. But, just like the Allegri Miserere, where I miss the top C in correct performances, even though I know it to be a modern creation; so with Monteverdi I love performances like this one, at high pitch with the bass duet rising to top F and the cornet soloists going to ultimate of their range.

Gardiner and his forces gave us a finely crafted and beautifully worked out performance which made the most of the venue, in terms of spacial placing and acoustics. Unlike some of the other period performances at the Proms, where I didn't feel the performances worked with the venue, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists gave us a stunning performance which was finely tailored to the venue. A very memorable last visit to this years Proms.

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