Ensemble MDCX (Archived)
The Ensemble has now completed its mission, with two performances of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, and one of the accompanying Mass
The Vespers (Vespro
della Beata Vergine 1610)
Saturday 24th July 2010 at 16:10hrs
The Mass (Missa In illo
21st November 2010, at 11.00am Mass.
Vespers Performance details
We used a new performing edition of the work by John Kilpatrick, complete except for the alternative 6-part Magnificat, derived from facsimiles of the original 1610 part-books. This edition is now in the public domain and can be accessed through the Choral Public Domain Library www.cpdl.org as well as directly through the above link. The edition allocates passages appropriately to chorus, semi-chorus, or solo singers, contributing to an exciting performance. The six string and six wind instrumentalists play all the notes that Monteverdi specifically wrote for violin and viola da brazzo, cornetti and tromboni, and double the vocal parts judiciously in the psalm settings and elsewhere. The principle followed is that Monteverdi would have used the forces available, this being one of the two defensible, though opposed, positions that can be taken in modern performance. The Lauda and Magnificat (pieces where the chiavette clef system is used) are at the lower pitch, a 4th down from that often heard in choral performances, thereby bringing the instruments into the same playing ranges as elsewhere in the work, such that the upper wind can cope without uncharacteristic strain, and the strings can play in first position, which is what the violins, at least, would have had to do in Monteverdi's day. The strings also play using a pure tone without vibrato: a dream sound, for those not accustomed to it.
In our Buxton performance there were 37 singers, and at Sheffield 31, drawn from two local choirs supplemented by some experienced tenors. The upper wind comprised two D-trumpets with 7C mouthpieces, and a Bb cornet. The lower wind were "pea-shooter" trombones of around 80-110 years old, these being nearer in specification to the old sackbuts than modern instruments, except in bell shape. The strings were standard violins, violas and cello, played in first position without vibrato. Continuo was provided by organ (using the church organ in a chamber-organ style in both performances) and harpsichord (a real instrument, though not of "Italian" style).
A companion performing edition of the 1610 Mass, also by John Kilpatrick, was used in the service at St Matthew's, referred to above. The Sheffield Lydian Singers on this occasion comprised 13 singers, with John Kilpatrick conducting. The mass was sung a cappella.
|St John's Church, Buxton, with its superb acoustics, would be anyone's first choice of Festival venue for this work, and is only a short walk across the road from the Opera House. The performance time of 16:10 allowed audience to attend an evening event such as the day's opera. We priced tickets at £10 per adult, £5 per child (under 16 as defined by the Fringe).
|Ecclesall Parish Church, Sheffield is a favoured location for concerts; comfortable, accessible to the denizens of Sheffield, and an ideal venue for this work. It is sited in the corner (nook) between Ecclesall Road and Ringinglow Road. We made this performance affordable, at ticket prices of £8 with £5 concessions.
|St Matthew's Church, Carver Street, Sheffield, is "perhaps the best kept secret in the centre of Sheffield"; it has a substantial Wikipedia entry . Our rendering of the Mass on the Feast of Christ the King included the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus/Benedictus, and Agnus Dei I & II, but not the sung Credo; also the anthem "Hosanna to the Son of David" (Gibbons), and Psalm 46 (chant attrib. Luther).
Cast of Characters
|Sheffield Lydian Singers, at that time directed by John Kilpatrick, is a small informal choir of around 12-15 strong, with singers who are or who have been in choral societies such as the Sheffield Bach Choir, Sheffield Oratorio Chorus, Sheffield Chorale, and Sterndale Singers. They enjoy exploring the unaccompanied repertoire, but sometimes (as for these occasions) branch out into more adventurous works. (Now under new direction.)
Tideswell Singers under the skilled directorship of Carol Bowns engage in a wide variety of performance style, but the Vespers was quite an adventure for them also. Carol was also one of our soprano soloists. They proved well up to the adventure.
|On the continuo, our Organist, George Nicholson, is Reader in Composition at Sheffield University, and several of his compositions have been performed recently in Sheffield. Pam Longden-Brown, our Harpsichordist, is an experienced continuo harpsichord player who studied at Sheffield University under Roger Bullivant, and who is regularly to be heard in Sheffield Bach Society concerts.
George's wife Jane Ginsborg sings in the SLS and is the other of our soprano soloists. Keith Hewitt, one of the tenor soloists (and the first singer to be heard in the performance), was a Westminster Abbey Chorister, and has sung ever since in large and small choirs - now often standing in for the regular lay clerks at Southwell Minster. The other principal tenor soloists were Robin Hughes and Tim Down: all three tenors can be heard together to excellent effect in the number "Duo Seraphim".
The string players, led by Lucy Phillips, are all accomplished players of classical bent, largely drawn from the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra. In addition to Lucy we have Fleur Bayley (violin), Peter Dyke & Pam Price (viola), Chris Cowan & Mavis Barnes (cello).
Our brass players, led by Jack Ashmore, are drawn from the backgrounds of brass bands, concert bands and jazz. He was joined on D-trumpet by Jon Howson and on Bb cornet by Nicholas Rosewell, and by Brian Witten, Barry Dobson & Jim Langley on the trombones. Several players were in the Sheffield Concert Band (though not necessarily in the current photo).
|Vespers of 1610
Feedback from the - Buxton & Ecclesall Performances
Here are some extracts from emails received after performances (senders' names omitted).
(Buxton) That was just the most marvellous performance! The sound was incredible, so very rich. I can't imagine how Monteverdi could even think it up. The choir and the musicians and the church acoustics all played their own amazing part. ..... Quite memorable. Thank you so much.
(Buxton) I was extremely impressed by the performance which I only found out about by accident. ..... I don't know what editions there are apart from yours but it sounded in the style, with elaborations, singers moving to different parts of the church, etc..
(Ecclesall) I just came home from your performance of the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin 1610 (Vespero della Beata Vergine 1610). I enjoyed it very much, I was lucky to saw a leaflet about it 2 days ago.
(Ecclesall) I thought the Vespers was a magnificent effort which I thoroughly enjoyed. I appreciated the harpsichord - you couldn't hear it in Gardner's Prom. I enjoyed Keith Hewitt and the other tenor. They were a nice contrast of voices and the ensemble came over well. It must have involved a lot of hard work and all are to be congratulated.
(Ecclesall) Thank you for a most enjoyable performance of the Vespers last night. It was a great experience for the listener, and it was good to see members of different groups working together so effectively. I am very glad we came back from holiday in time to hear it.
(Ecclesall) I just wanted to congratulate you and all the performers on the excellent performance on Saturday. What a tour de force for the soloists, and indeed everyone! My friends and I enjoyed it greatly.
(Ecclesall) What a triumph! The performance last night was wonderful. My mother assures me it was better than the performance in the Proms* (which I, unfortunately, missed). I must admit I hadnít expected such a high quality
*John Eliot Gardner. I'm not sure we really were better ...