The enormous rotunda of Edinburgh's McEwan Hall is a fantastical, Victorian vision of the Italian Renaissance. As such, it was an appropriate place to stage a performance of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers, part of the Edinburgh festival's Music of the Millennium series.

Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players made full use of the spatial possibilities presented by so elaborate a setting. In the Gloria of the Magnificat, the two tenors Charles Daniels and Joseph Cornwell were placed on high balconies at either end of the building. Between them, singing from the stage, a third, counter-tenor voice sang the unadorned Gloria plainchant: a point of musical stillness amid a storm of celestial ornamentation in the two tenor parts. Daniels and Cornwell's call and response was ethereal, as their voices intermingled in the vast resonance of the hall.

Parrott positioned the chant choir. The austerity of these chants was at a physical as well as musical remove from the invention of the instrumental and vocal soloists on stage. Their roles in Monteverdi's psalms and concertos are dazzlingly diverse; from dramatic individual interjections to collective, choral reflection.

Parrott's vision was of the Vespers as compositional cornucopia. Each of Monteverdi's extemporisations on psalm themes was carefully delineated. Lauda Jerusalem had a voluptuous flow, an image of the Lord's generosity and power. This joyous polyphony contrasted with the seriousness of Monteverdi's part-writing in the Dixit Dominus, a depiction of God's vengeance. Parrott and his ensemble relished the musical and poetic puns of the Audi Coelum, a game between a tenor and an echoing second singer, who repeats the final syllables of the solo part.

But Monteverdi splits up his setting so that the repeated voice transforms the meaning of the solo: the first tenor's "vita" (life), for example, is echoed as "ita" (even so). Parrott concealed the shadowing tenor behind the organ, his voice seemingly an actual echo of Joseph Cornwell's singing.

The instrumental contributions were no less convincing. In the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, the ensemble became an ecstatic congregation, responding to counter tenor James Huw Jeffries. The juxtaposition between this worldly abundance and the final prayers, declaimed without any elaboration by the choir, embodied the spiritual and musical variety of the whole performance.

Contributor

Tom Service

The GuardianTramp

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