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Apollo’s Hearth animates Monteverdi’s Large Bang of sacred works in Cleveland – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United States Monteverdi, Vespers of 1610:  Erica Schuller, Molly Netter, Rebecca Myers (sopranos), Kristen Dubenion-Smith (mezzo-soprano), Jacob Perry, Steven Caldicott Wilson (tenors), Edward Vogel, Andrew Padgett (baritones), Apollo’s Singers, Apollo’s Hearth / Jeannette Sorrell (conductor). First Baptist Church, Shaker Heights, Ohio, 8.10.2022. (MSJ)

Jeannette Sorrell © Apollo’s Hearth

There have been multi-movement sacred works earlier than Claudio Monteverdi’s epic Vespers, printed in 1610, for the entire custom had step by step emerged over the centuries from medieval thriller performs. However this piece is arguably the one the place the fragments of earlier concepts have been gathered with the rising Baroque fashion to spark one thing new and highly effective. It’s the genesis second that later led to the Bach lots, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and so many others. It’s the Large Bang of western sacred choral music and a necessary work.

It has been one which, till this live performance, eluded me. Though being of a decidedly secular bent, I’ve begrudgingly embraced the sacred repertory over time when it was too undeniably nice for me to keep away from, however this piece had been a problem. I had lengthy loved Monteverdi’s earthy secular items and had even been swept away by his madrigal Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. I acquired a few recordings of the Vespers and listened to them, however the sheer dimension and scope of the piece (and maybe the standard of the recordings themselves) left it unfocused to me. I then heard chosen excerpts in some earlier Apollo’s Hearth reside performances which provided partial insights, although I recall a type of live shows being impeded by a venue with insufficient acoustics.

Apollo’s Hearth at Shaker Top’s First Baptist Church © Apollo’s Hearth

To listen to the piece , led by the musician who avows that it’s her favourite work, was too nice a possibility to overlook. However I wished to listen to it in the suitable acoustic. Fortunately, the First Baptist Church of Larger Cleveland is simply such a corridor. Smaller than a full cathedral however massive sufficient to supply a mild halo of reverberation, the stone church is akin to the chapel the place the Vespers was doubtless first introduced, throughout a royal marriage ceremony on the court docket of the Duke of Mantua. This acoustic allowed for the sense of awe sacred music wants, but remained clear sufficient and heat sufficient to do justice to Monteverdi’s fusion of historic and new, holy and sensual.

Students have debated whether or not the Vespers is a self-contained work or merely a group of appropriate items for potential efficiency as a part of a vespers service. Jeannette Sorrell advocates viewing it as a totality, and her presentation of it persuasively helps that notion. Whereas the varied psalms and motets have been constructed out of small passages illustrating Biblical texts, they slowly constructed up into massive constructions which Sorrell animated into the type of ebb-and-flow that brings a big work life and form.

Certainly, for a critic like me who comes from a lifelong immersion in epic late-Romantic orchestral symphonies, it delivered to thoughts the symphonies of nineteenth-century composer Anton Bruckner. He wrote religious works of many self-contained paragraphs that solely reveal a coherent form upon getting heard massive chunks of the work and take into consideration the best way the blocks match collectively. Maybe Bruckner even received that strategy from Monteverdi, for it’s recognized that he studied early music extensively throughout an age when different composers not often regarded any additional again than Bach. Monteverdi’s Vespers works on the identical massive scale.

Sorrell has lengthy advocated for this work, and her Apollo’s Hearth recording (which I made certain so as to add to my assortment on the live performance!) was lately named by BBC Classical Music Journal as certainly one of ‘30 Should-Have Recordings of our Lifetime’. One can see why. Within the thirty-plus years that Sorrell has been rising her ensemble, she has made certain that they’re masters of an amazing vary of music making, from ethereal spirituality to earthy frolics. That Shakespearean vary was delivered to bear within the Monteverdi Vespers, starting from angelic sweetness to human longing, divine energy to swaying dance.

The soloists have been excellent, steadily repositioning on stage (and typically off) for max impact. Jacob Perry engaged compellingly along with his arching tenor voice, and the ‘Pulchra Es’ duet between Erica Schuller and Molly Netter was nearly unbearably lovely, the that means of the textual content merely however devastatingly conveyed by the singers turning away from one another within the closing measures. That may be a good instance of how even in a live performance presentation, an Apollo’s Hearth efficiency is at all times alive to the ability of communication by way of stage motion.

One other superb instance was within the ‘Audi coelum’ motet, the place the vividly energetic and questioning phrases of tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson, entrance and heart on stage, have been echoed within the distance by chorister Haitham Haidar, who began someplace offstage and ended up within the choir loft on the rear of the church. At one other level, one of many cornetto (picket trumpet) gamers stepped offstage to echo strains performed by the onstage performer. The instrumental performers supported the singers all through with focus and brilliance.

Monteverdi’s ingenious leavening of the solemn vespers with hotter poetic passages from the Music of Solomon provides the work its complete grasp, and Sorrell and her ensemble confirmed that they’ve its measure, revealing Monteverdi as the important thing determine straddling the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque, but making his music, above all, humanly accessible. It was an auspicious starting to Apollo’s Hearth’s thirty-first season.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

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