Rainy day in Venice
The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday 9 November 2017.
“The Other Vespers” was the title of this concert by I Fagiolini, and it was a bit of a tease. I Fagiolini approach everything with a twinkle in their eye, and the photos in the programme showed them in Italy, larking about on Vespa scooters (get it?) and generally enjoying la dolce vita. The point was that this wasn’t the famous Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: but a sequence of sacred music by various Italian baroque masters that Monteverdi is known (or plausibly assumed) to have directed in Venice some decades later.
Cue baroque music on a truly luxurious scale. The eight singers of I Fagiolini under Robert Hollingworth were accompanied by a continuo of chamber organ plus various sizes of theorbo, as well as two violins and the six-strong English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. Together, the sound they made was refulgent, and glowed rather than dazzled: in works like Gabrieli’s 14-part Magnificat, the harmonies built and shimmered like clouds of incense.
Elsewhere, the ensemble was used more sparingly, and there were some delightful discoveries: an Ave Verum by Palestrina had a warbling solo cornetto (just one) added by the Milanese vocalist Bovicelli – a sound halfway between a cor anglais and a duck-call. Instrumental items, including a marvellously florid violin sonata by Uccellini were interspersed with the sacred numbers.
But everything, sacred or profane, was informed by the same sense of playful inventiveness. It danced, as well as sang, and singers and instrumentalists alike improvised and ornamented their melodies. And if (to modern ears) it felt slightly anticlimactic to end with a solo item – Monteverdi’s Salve, O Regina, sung with languishing sweetness – it was a useful reminder that the real stars here were the composers.