Review of the Monteverdi Vespers performance which took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 to a sold-out Cathedral.
Monteverdi's Vespers is sumptuous as sound and as spectacle. We're not too sure why he wrote it but for many listeners it conjures up the very essence of Venice in the year 1610.
On Saturday night its glorious opening could hardly have been more dazzlingly theatrical: after a brief, urgent solo prayer the Heavens themselves seemed to open, with brass fanfares and a tsunami of bright, buoyant choral sound. The effect was like sun bouncing off the Venetian lagoon, piercing the windows of St Mark's.
For conductor Alex Patterson this performance was both a musical and logistical triumph. Not only were three choirs involved (Nottingham Cathedral Choir and Youth Choir joining forces with St Mary's) but also the period instrument expertise of the Monteverdi String Band and the English Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble. The work calls not only for complex musical effects but also for a theatrical use of space. Some of the most moving parts of this performance (as in Duo Seraphim and Audi Coelum) were when sound emerged from a distance, shrouded in mystery, suggesting infinite echoes through time and space.
The performers were alert to the work's constantly changing textures. Monteverdi uses the full band relatively sparingly - and always with thrilling effect. But just as compelling on Saturday were the many solos: attentive to period style and all an essential part of the narrative and purpose of each hymn, psalm or prayer. Almost operatic spatial effects, as well as vivid word-painting, added to the consistent sense of drama.
Amongst this Vespers most impressive features: the brightness, bite and rhythmic vitality of the choral and instrumental sound; the stylistic unity achieved by large forces; the contribution of much well-judged musical detail to the effect of the massive whole. All those involved should feel proud of what they achieved.