Saturday, 1 June 2019 at St Andrew’s, Presteigne
Review by Clare Stevens
Kington Choral Society (KCS) grows ever more adventurous under the baton of its current music director, Robert Evans. Saturday 1st June saw them making a return visit to St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne, following last year’s performance of Bach’s St John Passion with soloists from The Sixteen. This time their choice of repertoire was even more ambitious: the Vespers of 1610 by Claudio Monteverdi – possibly the Presteigne premiere of this extraordinary work.
Like Bach’s B minor Mass, the Vespers may never have been performed in its entirety during the composer’s lifetime. Written during his time as director of music in the Chapel of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, in northern Italy, the collection of very diverse settings of the main evening service liturgy of the Roman Catholic church may have functioned as a source book for choirmasters and a ‘calling card’, demonstrating Monteverdi’s skill.
The work opens with a strident appeal ‘Deus in adjutorum meum intende’ /’O God make speed to save me’ – sonorously delivered by KCS tenor Terry Wells – before opening out into a sequence of ever more elaborate musical tapestries, sometimes featuring up to ten voice parts. These are contrasted with exquisite contemplative movements for solo voices or small groups of singers, accompanied by different combinations of instruments.
In order to ensure a successful performance of this virtuosic work, Mr Evans had recruited a superb team of professional solo singers and instrumentalists to support his un-auditioned choir. Organist Hilary Norris and the period instrument ensemble Canzona, led by Teresa Caudle who switched effortlessly from violin to cornett when required, transported both choir and audience to 17th-century Italy from their first notes. From filigree string ornamentations of the quieter movements to the regal brass fanfares of the choral sections, they played magnificently; the elaborate ‘Sonata sopra Sancta Maria’ /’Holy Mary, pray for us’ section which showcases the instruments was a particular highlight, as was the unison soprano melody that runs through it, sung by the beautifully blended trio of Serena Jopson and Angharad Rowlands (sopranos) and Elisabeth Paul (alto).
Ms Jopson is the current holder of KCS’s innovative Bursary for Young Musicians, which has funded both her membership of the choir and her vocal studies. Having recently achieved an ABRSM Diploma in singing, she will begin undergraduate studies in music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in September. She ably held her own with her more experienced colleagues in the many ensemble sections of the Vespers, and delivered several solo sections with aplomb, especially the heartfelt ‘Monstra te esse matrem’/’Show thyself a mother’ verse of the hymn ‘Ave maris stella’/’Hail, star of the sea’.
Monteverdi clearly loved the tenor voice, and highlights of the evening included the extended solos and duets sung by Christopher Huggon and Toby Ward.
The bass soloists have less to do but Sam Mitchell and Gavin Cranmer-Moralee provided secure foundations for their respective ensemble sections. The voices of all the young soloists were perfectly matched and their eloquent, stylish delivery had an inspirational effect on the chorus, who were committed and responsive and brought a real sense of drama to the work.
This is the real purpose of these KCS concerts: to give the choir a genuine sense of participating in an authentic performance of one of the masterpieces of western classical music. Preparation over many weeks requires a lot of work and for some the experience will have been extremely challenging, but the result is immensely rewarding for both singers and audience. Robert Evans is to be applauded for both his calm direction of this concert and for his creative approach to developing musical opportunities for his choir.