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Beautifully conducted

posted 25 Oct 2011, 04:10 by Thomas Friberg

Oxford Times, 30 June 2011 

By David Watson 

Last Saturday the Oxford Bach Choir took on the challenging compilation by Monteverdi in 1610 of the various Vesper Psalms, Motets and concluding Magnificat “for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” which have come to be known as the Vespers, his most renowned religious work.  The challenge arises from the variety of styles, both secular and religious, which Monteverdi employed, coupled with the virtuosity in the writing, both for the choir, soloists and instrumentalists.
Monteverdi himself might have approved of the venue, the Sheldonian Theatre, which dates from only half a century or so later than the Vespers themselves, and offers the possibility of similar antiphonal effects to those of St. Mark’s, Venice, of which the Choir and its conductor, Timothy Byram-Wigfield, took full advantage.

The sprung, dancing rhythms and syncopations in this music are a source of constant delight; they were given full rein by Byram-Wigfield’s clear direction and tempi sensibly not too fast for a large choir, tempi which also gave space for the rich sonority and splendour of Monteverdi’s choral writing for up to eight parts, excitingly realised by conductor and choir. The choir showed every evidence of careful rehearsal, and there were many beautiful  moments and stirring climaxes.

There was an excellent team of soloists who all sang with a real feel for their often virtuosic music, immaculate ensemble and sense of period style.  They consisted of the sopranos Elenor Bowers-Jolley and Miriam Allen, countertenor Rory McCleery, tenors Ben Alden (who deserves a special mention for his beautiful solo motet “Nigra sum” sung from memory), Thomas Elwin (who stepped in at ten days’ notice) and Joseph Ford Thompson, and basses Thomas Friberg and George Coltart.

The orchestra was the period group Charivari Agréable, who painted Monteverdi’s instrumental effects in bright colours throughout as well as providing clear backing for the choir and stylish continuo playing for the soloists.  

The choir was also joined by the young choristers or Quiristers of Winchester College (Director – Malcolm Archer), who sang their far from easy contributions with musicality and professionalism. 

As a whole the performance was most convincing in its realisation of Monteverdi’s many styles and beautifully conducted throughout.