An ecstatic rendition of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 brought audiences at St Mary’s Cathedral to their feet last week.
To mark 450 years since the birth of the Italian composer, the St Mary’s Cathedral Choir joined The Song Company for two performances of his most breathtaking sacred work.
As indicated by its official name — Vespers for the Blessed Virgin — the composition was conceived for feast days honouring Our Lady, but its scope was much broader than purely sacred. At the time of its writing Monteverdi was widely revered as the first major composer of opera. His Vespers was a dexterous and daring work of virtuosity usually reserved for secular music.
It has been seen as a demonstration piece of sorts: a mélange of an emerging theatrical style, of which Monteverdi was a pioneer, and an enormously ambitious spiritual masterpiece, featuring soloists, chorus, and orchestra and including liturgical and extra-liturgical components. Using the qualities of distance and separation, the textured elements hang in the air.
Conducted by the St Mary’s director of music, Thomas Wilson, Monteverdi’s intention was beautifully executed on Friday night. Supported by the superb Orchestra of the Antipodes, whose mastery of rarely seen Baroque instruments added to the enchantment, in particular the stringed theorbo — stipulated by Monteverdi himself as essential to the piece.
The acoustic wonder of the cathedral was showcased beautifully, with singers and musicians positioned to dramatic effect on the altar, in the choir loft, and in the side chapels.
A highlight was the Gloria of the Magnificat, in which the brilliant tenor, Richard Butler, was echoed perfectly by his counterpart, Richard Black. Another wonderful offering was the exquisite Pulchra Es performed by the sopranos Amy Moore and Anna Fraser.
The demanding children’s role, rapturously filled by the Santa Sabina choristers, was testament to Karen Carey’s expert guidance and the girls’ dedication to a divine work.