Paragon Singers: Wiltshire Music Centre, Bath
Monteverdi Vespers of 1610
Wiltshire Music Centre
There will have been those who thought: Monteverdi Vespers? At Christmas? In fact Vespers is the Christian service of evening prayer, appropriate in Advent and throughout the year. And this, from the opening tenor recitative was a performance to relish, a sumptuous combination of superb soloists: a meticulous, authentic sound from the Bradford Baroque Band on period instruments and the choir energised by the quality of the solo singers and players.
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The two tenors, Mark Dobell and Jeremy Budd were sublime, the antiphonal affect wonderfully effective, especially in the Magnificat. Faye Newton's Sancta Maria matching the cornetts and sackbutts with her striking coloratura – how the voice has richened and developed. And the match with Katharine Hawnt in the Pulchra es was exquisite. Aaron Burchell's alto has a fine warm tone and I'd liked to have heard more of him in the Magnificat. Niall Hoskin and Phil Brotheridge provided a good robust baritone.
The Band was impeccable, with the wind instruments producing their highly individual sound alongside immaculate strings, chittarone and chamber organ. If they were occasionally dominant, the effect was still spine-tingling, and the choir responded with some beautifully controlled piano singing, particularly in the Ave Maris Stella, with its constantly changing combination of solos, and chorus, surging through in the final Spiritui Sancto. The Duo Seraphim was, quite literally, heavenly, the harmony luxuriant, sung with style and artistry.
And the final Magnificat, with its extraordinary range of colours and textures, bound together by the cantus firmus, was exactly the kind of exuberant joyful climax Monteverdi would have wanted. The choir hit top form, the balance and quality of the sound giving the work an explosion of ebullience and jubilant good humour. I hope conductor Keith Bennett and his musicians enjoyed this outpouring of Monteverdi's genius as much as a packed and enthusiastic audience. Vespers for Christmas? Absolutely.
Peter Lloyd Williams