Concert in Tewkesbury Abbey, July 8th 2010
"More traditional - though perhaps no less provocative - was Thursday night's festival concert at Tewkesbury Abbey. Celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, Monteverdi's Vespers is one of the most notorious sources of musical contention, provoking musicologist Denis Arnold to conclude that, '...to perform it is to court disaster.'
Little is known of its true composition date, original performance context, or even its pitch, but most vexed has been the question of vocal forces. More typically performed by a massed choir and soloists, there is a case to be made for using just solo voices - a case given persuasive life in Thursday's performance by Peter Harvey, the Magdalena Consort and ten vocal soloists.
Scored with only two treble lines, the distinctive texture of the work is dominated by its eight lower voice parts. In the resonant acoustic space of Tewkesbury Abbey, the impact was both clear and gloriously powerful, with Harvey (who contributed a baritone part as well as directing) able to balance the collective force of the men and orchestra against the lighter sopranos of Elin Manahan Thomas and Julia Doyle.
In doing away with a full choir Harvey and his performers did lose a central source of dramatic contrast, sometimes failing to compensate sufficiently with dynamics, which tended to default to a full-toned mf - not aided by some occasionally rather brash orchestral playing. Texturally however, the single-voices of the ensemble yielded an unusual clarity and flexibility, with the intricate decorative detail of the vocal ornamentation emerging clearly silhouetted against the collective texture.
With soloists of this quality - James Gilchrist, Charles Daniels, Eamonn Dougan, Robert Macdonald - vocal excellence was a given, and most striking was the trust and communication on display between the performers in this highly ornamental and delicately spun music. Two high points were duets "Pulchra es" and "Duo Seraphim". The latter, an evocative description of two Seraphims calling to one another, became in the hands of Gilchrist and Daniels an impossibly fluid battle of skills, the two voices diving and dovetailing among one another with ecstatic urgency."
Alexandra Coghlan - New Statesman, July 15th 2010
Read the full review
"A glorious and godly experience! Three shaken bells heralded the ten Magdalena Consort singers who solemnly processed to their places as the instrumentalists stood ready to begin Monteverdi's virtuoso showpiece - his 1610 Vespers.
From the very first note shivers quivered down the spine as male voices intoned the first plainsong melody and a strong 'welcome call' enveloped the congregation.
Peter Harvey enthusiastically and masterfully conducted and sang from the centre of the singers binding together the counterpoint ....
Elin Manahan Thomas sang from the heart in Pulchra es .... exquisite clean pure voice ....
Drama, religion and innovative musical writing combined with the highest quality of singing projection and clarity I have heard in the Abbey made this a potent and inspirational performance transcending to paradisiacal heights."
Jill Bacon - for 'This is Gloucestershire' - Gloucestershire newspapers website, Monday 12th July 2010
'Ages of Man': Sopron 'Early Music Days'Concert in Liszt Hall of the Liszt Ferenc Konferencia-és Kulturális Központ, Sopron, Hungary, June 21st 2010:
"The four voices wove together magically, creating a genuine moment of devotion, nuanced and delicately intuitive" (varázslatosan simult össze a nègy hang, árnyalt, finom átèlèssel igazi áhitatot teremtettek.)
Èva Mikes - for Kultura.hu
J.S. Bach: Baptism Cantatas: MDR (Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk) 'Musiksommer'Concert in the 'Bach Church', Arnstadt, Germany, July 15th 2009
"I have never heard the choruses sung like this - the four solo singers achieved such a transparency of line, responding to each other in every subtle nuance, and their enthusiasm for the music was completely infectious - it was unknown territory for me and I was totally captivated. This was a world-class performance.'"
Volker's Klassikseiten - J.S. Bach
Read the full review, (in German)