It is very easy to become so side-tracked by the historical and musicological issues that surround Monteverdi’s 1610 music that one overlooks the fact that it is, above all, a set of great vocal pieces. Monteverdi explicitly makes provision for performance by singers with just an organ for support. The opening response can be chanted, the instrumental interludes in the first psalm and the hymn can be omitted, the sonata can be omitted, and there is a second Magnificat setting that requires only an organ for accompaniment – no brass, no strings. You don’t even need a choir – one good singer per part may well have been the composer’s expectation. Frankly, if you know the deluxe version that we will be performing it’s a bit of a let-down, if nonetheless lovely in its own way.
However, there were choirs (in our modern sense) in Monteverdi’s time and it is not inappropriate in either musical or historical terms to use one. And what a feast they get. Always divided into at least six parts and in one psalm as many as ten; soaring melodies; jazzy syncopations; intricate counterpoint; gravely beautiful plainchant; and one of the greatest ever ‘Amen’ settings.
The soloists, too, have a rich banquet. Swift virtuosic passages, lyrical lines, luscious duet writing, echoes, the greatest ever tenor trio . . . it’s all there.
My favourite bits? All of it really, but if you push me then Lauda Jerusalem and the six part conclusion to Audi coelum. But I’d love to be a tenor who could sing Duo seraphim.
Join us for a great night out on November 18th.