Last night’s large audience at St.Paul’s Trinity Centre was the happy recipient of a glorious and uplifting performance of a 400 year old work that had all the freshness of a contemporary piece of music. David Fallis, Artistic Director of The Toronto Consort, has long studied both the work and the evolution of its performance practices in the 20th century resulting in what could possibly be the closest version of what Claudio Monteverdi had in mind.

TORONTO CONSORT thrills audience with Monteverdi Vespers of 1610

Reviewed by ​David Richards

May 7 2016

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​​British tenor Charles Daniels, did most of the solo work. His voice was clear, powerful, flexible and dramatic. His opening versicle “Deus in adiutorium” set the tone as a cry to God. The subsequent psalms, antiphons, concertos and culminating magnificat displayed solos, duets, ensembles of different combinations of singers, full chorus and varying instrumental accompaniments. They combined to create a dramatic yet lyrically beautiful interpretation. Each of the thirteen singers displayed vocal virtuosity as well as an ability to blend within the ensemble and choral sections. Soprano Michelle DeBoer was particularly noticeable for her lyrical tone that in solo passages soared beautifully over the instrumental accompaniment.

Ornamented singing highlighted many of the solos; canon-like imitation in both instruments and singers characterized several ensemble passages. There were wonderful echo effects achieved by singers positioned in the balcony and instrumentalists with their backs turned to the audience.

Fallis gathered an orchestra consisting of period instruments including a theorbo, a curtal, sackbuts and cornettos. Bruce Dickey, one of two cornetto players, discussed the history of the instrument and the 1610 Vespers in an engaging lecture prior to the performance. The revival of the cornetto in the late 20th century coincided with the evolution of the performance practices of the Monteverdi Vespers from a symphonic approach in the earlier 1900’s to one that more closely resembles what they might have sounded like in a church in Rome or Venice in 1610.

No one knows with any certainty what the original practices were. Never the less, the physical limitations of the churches of the day precluded large choirs and orchestras. Musicologists think Monteverdi wrote his Vespers to prove to the eccliastical world of the day that he could write church music in addition to the operas and madrigals for which he was already well known. He was hoping for an appointment in Rome and may well have written them as part of his application.

Years ago, as a student of music at university, I saw the early music enthusiasts as an elitist group of off-beat eccentrics who couldn’t make it in the real world of western (i.e. 19th century) music. Performances such as last night’s performance by The Toronto Consort go a long way to convincing even the die-hards that early music is as exciting as is music of any other period in music history.

Performances of the work continue this evening, May 7 at 8pm and tomorrow, May 8 at 3pm 

Toronto Consort: photo by Paul Orenstein

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