fri 28/02/2020

Monteverdi Vespers, The Sixteen, Christophers, Cadogan Hall review – majesty on a modest scale | reviews, news & interviews

Monteverdi Vespers, The Sixteen, Christophers, Cadogan Hall review – majesty on a modest scale

Monteverdi Vespers, The Sixteen, Christophers, Cadogan Hall review – majesty on a modest scale

Well-established team brings a passion for clarity and colour

The Sixteen with Harry Christophers - focused tone and clean articulation© Firedog

The Monteverdi Vespers are usually a grand affair, but Harry Christophers showed they can work just as well on a smaller scale. Cadogan Hall has a dry acoustic, at least compared to St Mark’s Basilica, so there is little opportunity for billowing waves of choral declamation, echoing through the galleries. Instead, Christophers aims for focus and clarity, with swift tempos and a modest dynamic range. His singers and players respond well, with good balance and ensemble, although the virtuosic demands of the melodic lines were often taxing for the soloists.

Christophers (pictured below by Marco Borggreve) always adds spectacle. Without a podium, he was free to wander around the front of the stage, leaning deeply into the continuo section, or waltzing across to some distant instrumental soloist, to offer their cue in person. It can be a distracting performance, but there is no denying his close and sensitive communication with the singers. His extravagant arm gestures are usually about articulation and phrasing in the choral writing, and the sheer impact of the tutti numbers is always aided by the crisp, precise consonants he draws from the singers.

The Orchestra of The Sixteen was here a one-to-a-part ensemble, dominated in many of the choruses by the three cornetts and three trombones, but elsewhere given lightness and grace by the pair of recorders. In fact, for most of the work, the chorus or vocal soloists are accompanied just by continuo – usually led by cello or theorbo, supported by violone, dulcian, harp and chamber organ, the latter subtly  amplified – and this group was solid throughout, a stable bass over which Monteverdi’s elaborate melodies could flourish.

Harry ChristophersFor solo numbers and small ensembles, Christophers only directed as necessary. For the motet Nigra sum, theorbo and tenor (Mark Dobell – the busiest soloist here) came to the front of the stage, and for five minutes we were in pure Dowland territory. Similarly, in the following motet, Pulchra es, sopranos Katy Hill and Charlotte Mobbs came to the fore, though this time accompanied by the continuo group in situ. Surprisingly, though, there was little in the way of antiphonal arrangement in the choral numbers, and most of the vocal solos were organised by having the singers rearrange themselves within the choir so as to have the soloists standing adjacent. But two numbers in the second half demanded more dramatic treatment, the Audi coelum and the Glorio patri of the final Magnificat, and for both the two tenor soloists (Dobell and Jeremy Budd) were positioned at opposite ends of the hall.

The vocal soloists were all drawn from the ranks of The Sixteen, which contributed to the feeling of an ensemble performance, all about close communication between the players and with little bravura from the soloists. The exception, of course, is Christophers himself, whose personality was all over this performance – his passion for clarity and colour, his sometimes angular but never harsh take on period performance conventions. And it all comes together in the grand choral numbers, the final Magnificat in particular a spectacular showcase for the ensemble’s talents – the focussed tone and cleanly articulated singing, suitably majestic, even at this modest scale.


Harry Christophers always adds spectacle, leaning deeply into the continuo section, or waltzing across to some distant soloist


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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