CentralConcertLive Music/GigMusicReview

Monteverdi Vespers (1610) – Town Hall, Birmingham

Composer: Claudio Monteverdi

Conductor: Jeffrey Skidmore

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Hipsters take note – none of this refers to an artisan revival of that ersatz 60s waspy Vespa scooter no self-respecting Rocker would ever be seen dead on. Sources indicate that Monteverdi submitted his apotheosis of sacred music in a successful application for the post of maestro di cappella at St Marks, Venice in 1613. If this was in the c.v. – well! The interview can only be imagined.

The term Vespers, dating back to the 7th century (its latter approximation being the more familiar Evensong), is taken from the sixth period of the eight Christian Canonical Hours of the day; strictly observed by those taking monastical/convent vows. These daily orders of office form the narrative spine in Sarah Dunant’s late Renaissance cell and cloister, whimple-ripper gripping, Sacred Heart. And, to dissuade any juvenile sniggers in the rear Circle tonight, His Majestys Sagbutt is the medieval predecessor of the trombone – whilst a Cornett is not a 1980s ice-cream or trumpet-like but a wind instrument sometimes known a zink.

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and an integral element in the Catholic Church’s Marian worship, tonight’s work gloriously climaxes with the Magnificat (My soul doth magnify The Lord). Amongst the post-encore chatter there is discernible agreement that the Gloria Patri  tenors have acquitted themselves with particular honours. 

Whether suffused in seasoned and studied embracement of this work or just simply enraptured by its textured intoxication, either or both, demonstrate the breadth and majesty of its compass. Tonight, Conductor Jeffery Skidmore’s scholarly discipline allows space for both generosity of spirit and mystery where singers, musicians and audience become absorbed in collective ecstasy. During Motet, Audi, column, (Hear, oh Heaven) soloists, Paul Bentley-Angell and Sean Clayton exchange a sequence of verse and echo. Its teasing fragility and haunting timbre is near epiphanic.

 The shifting dynamics, where transitional ensembles and individuals take up different podium positions, witness Skidmore reaching to rein-in nuance and fine-tune the Town Hall’s neo-Classical voluminous ambiance.

This is Monteverdi made immortal – and through him, sacred, medieval certainties challenged by Renaissance humanism were about to open the door to that Age of Enlightenment mathematical musical chimera – Baroque. But for tonight – Maestro, Claudio Monteverdi, forever timeless, infinitely generous – ever feeds the hungry soul. 

Reviewed on 3 December 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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