Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 23, 2015

Vespers of 1610, Claudio Monteverdi

Boston Early Music Festival Ensembles
Mahaiwe Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
June 20 2015
by Barbara Stroup

Fresh from a Boston performance of this and other Monteverdi works, the artists from the Boston Early Music Festival delivered a confident and stunning performance in the Mahaiwe.

Eschewing more modern presentations with many on each part, Conductor Stephen Stubbs chose to offer the audience the transparency and clarity that best benefit this late-Renaissance sacred work, using nine singers and 15 instruments.

The Vespers of 1610 was performed in its entirety and in the order in which the composer published it. In his pre-concert talk, co-Artistic Director Paul O'Dette convincingly described the evidence used to make this choice. These remarks of both Stubbs and O'Dette helped clarify the architecture of the piece and showed not only the reverence in which it is held, but the amount of musicological research behind this performance.

Claudio Monteverdi
Utilizing instruments of the period, the ensemble achieved a well-blended sound whether supporting vocal parts or performing alone. Particularly outstanding was gambist Erin Headley, who had barely a measure of rest but who provided an anchor for the entire continuo section with her smooth and fluid sound. The section included the director at times, playing chitarrone, an organ, cello, double bass, harp along with Odette on chittarone. Upper line instruments made singular solo and ensemble contributions appropriately, including the longest trombone ever seen by this reviewer. Cornetto playing was particularly effective, but even so, the use of recorders by the same players for brief respites was charming and welcome.

The vocal ensemble was faultless in pitch and drama. Their commitment to the text and to other parts was clear in both their solo "concerti" and ensemble sections. The audience let it be known that the entire performance was a joy by calling the players and singers back several times. It is a wonderful partnership to have BEMF in Western MA and it is hoped such appearances will increase.