Paul McCreesh's performing version of Monteverdi's Vespers returns the piece to the way he imagines it could have been heard in 1610 in Venice. It's a long way from the glories of St Mark's to the austerity of Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christ Church in Spitalfields, but the energy and imagination of McCreesh's performance with the Gabrieli Consort and Players recreated the atmosphere of early 17th century Italy in the 21st century east end of London.
There are things in the Vespers that are so magical in their simplicity that they take the breath away: in the Motet, Duo Seraphim, two solo tenors were joined by a third voice for a depiction of the Holy Trinity of Father, Word, and Holy Spirit; Monteverdi's music creates an astonishing moment of word painting when the vocal lines coalesced from three florid lines onto a single note. There was an unforgettable fusion of ancient and modern in the setting of the psalm Lauda Jerusalem, in which the original plainchant was overlaid by the richness of six separate vocal parts.
McCreesh's singers were by turns soloists and ensemble musicians, and all had a chance to shine in the huge Magnificat, often the concluding movement of the Vespers, but placed in the middle of McCreesh's performance. However, no solo number was more affecting than tenor Charles Daniels's performance of the final motet, Audi Coelum. Each verse of this hymn to Mary was garlanded with Monteverdi's most elaborate ornamentation, creating a transcendent vocal virtuosity. The last syllable of each of Daniels's lines was given an ethereal echo by tenor Joseph Cornwell, singing, invisibly, from the other end of Christ Church.
The depth and insight of the vocal performances was matched by the brilliance of the instrumental playing, above all in the Sonata on the Sancta Maria chant, the ultimate embodiment of how Monteverdi transforms the simplicity of plainchant into a teeming, modern complexity.