Monday, April 26, 2010

Magnificat: Monteverdi Vespers

Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)
Claudio Monteverdi

Warren Stewart, artistic director

Apr 25 2010 3:00 pm
Grace Cathedral

California MilleEarly music group Magnificat presented Monteverdi's Vespers with small forces, only using 10 hard-working singers, one per part. The orchestra was similarly minimal. The church acoustic of Grace Cathedral made the sound both space-filing & muddy. The reverberation time was at least 2 seconds, giving all the sound a blurry halo. The acoustic helped make a striking moment of the pedal point opening of the Magnificat's Gloria Patri, though. Tempos were deliberate, & the intermissionless performance lasted an hour & fifty minutes.

I liked the very capable voices, such as Brian Thorsett as the 2nd tenor, whose singing was ardent. In a demonstration of the continuing effect of Eyjafjallajokull, he was a replacement for Mirko Guardagnini, who was unable to leave Europe. The 1st soprano had a voice that was big & soaring. There was a male alto voice in there somewhere that was penetrating & solid. The wind players from The Whole Noyse made a mellow contribution to the sound.

Antiphons were sung between the numbers to give the piece its liturgical context. The Sonata sopra Sancta Maria was performed last, after the Magnificat in 7 parts. Before the performance, Mr. Stewart asked the audience to refrain from applause until the end, & it was indeed impressively quiet during the lengthy performance. Many gave the performers a standing ovation. The audience was invited to a wine & cheese reception afterward. Someone at Magnificat is quite Web-savvy, as the group has an informative blog, & a presence on flickr, facebook & twitter.

Since we arrived early for the concert, we had time to inspect the immaculately maintained vintage cars of the California Mille in Huntington Park. This is my 2nd Vespers performance in the work's 400th anniversary year. Will it be possible to attend a 3rd without leaving SF?


Immanuel Gilen said...

Just an idea: the penultimate Prom this year is a performance of the Vespers with the singers dispersed across the Royal Albert Hall's Galleries...

Church acoustics are quite often muddy, aren't they? Plus churches have awful sightlines; perhaps they add a spiritual element but as concert venues, they're generally a poor choice in my opinion.

Axel Feldheim said...

Oh, I like the sound of that Proms concert already. I think it's a great idea to do spatial things with this music.

Church acoustics are indeed problematic. Sometimes that halo effect is really nice, & at other times I wish for more clarity. I don't mind not being able to see the performers. My most memorable performance of the Vespers was in Westminster Cathedral, & the musicians were completely hidden from view in the choir. It was a truly mystical experience when the disembodied music started out of nowhere.