Conductor: Kent Tritle
Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine
As if Bach's seemingly never-ending St Matthew Passion at Carnegie Hall a couple of weeks ago had not been enough, last Wednesday I decided to venture up north to the cathedral of St John the Divine for another copious - Although not quite as copious - dose of early sacred music. The Manhattan School of Music happened to present Monterverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine, his ambitious collection of liturgical and non-liturgical texts set to different ensemble configurations, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to become acquainted with this monument of the choral music repertoire.
I must admit that getting caught in the first thunderstorm of the season sans umbrella on my way there almost made me turn around and go back home, but a serendipitous 99 cents store and the perspective of live music helped me soldier on and eventually make it in time, drenched but victorious.
The concert took place in the relatively intimate choir area, right between the nave and the sanctuary, creating a lively little bubble of not much warmth, a decent amount of light, and a lot of music. The only problem was that some of the sounds from the instruments and voices did not stay in our reduced open space and often took off to get lost in the cavernous cathedral. As a result, the winds came off bright and over-powering, the strings had trouble making themselves heard, and the voices fared more or less well, depending on the set-up and the accompaniment of the various pieces.
That being said, there was still a lot to be enjoyed. I had a distinct feeling that things were getting better as the performance was proceeding, although I am not sure if it was me or the performers becoming more comfortable with it. The Pulcra es was one of the loveliest soprano duets I'd ever heard, the echoing in the Audi coelum verba mea was a refreshing novelty, the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria happily let the strings take center stage for a few minutes, the difficult but rewarding Lauda Jerusalem went off remarkably well, and the concluding Magnificat had some glorious moments. Even better, by the time we got out, the rain had stopped and the wet city was now glowing under the street lights.
Sometimes it pays off not to be a quitter.