In performance: ARTEK and the 1610 Vespers
High and low notes in ARTEK and Piffaro’s performance of Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers’
by Charles T. Downey
In honor of the 400th anniversary of the publication of Claudio Monteverdi's "Vespers of the Blessed Virgin," the National Gallery of Art hosted a performance on Sunday night of most of the music now known as the "1610 Vespers." It was the second concert in as many weeks to feature this baroque masterpiece, but a capacity crowd filled the West Garden Court.
This was a higher-octane version than the Folger Consort's performance of the work at the Washington National Cathedral the previous weekend. The museum's venue is smaller, if no less echo-prone, and was filled by a larger instrumental ensemble of more than 20 players, a combination of the ARTEK and Piffaro bands. Lute, guitar, cittern, theorbo, lirone, harp, organ and harpsichord provided a myriad of colors, more lavish than strictly necessary, to the continuo harmonies. Among the soloists, standout playing came from cornettist Michael Collver and paired violinists Enrico Gatti and Vita Wallace.
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Four sackbuts and a magnificent contradulcian that buzzed and rattled on the bass line filled out the ensemble. All that amassed instrumental power sometimes overwhelmed the singers, mostly assigned one to a part except, wisely, on many of the psalm tones worked ingeniously by Monteverdi into complex textures. Liberal instrumental doubling of the vocal parts, intended to alleviate this inequity, in fact contributed to it.
Unlike in the Folger Consort version, here one missed a truly clarion soprano presence that Rosa Lamoreaux, although lovely when paired with mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead in the duet "Pulchra es," could not produce. On the other hand, tenor Matthew Smith, whose voice was squandered in the ensemble by the Folger Consort, gave a clear, vibrant rendition of "Nigra sum" and was seconded ably by tenor Philip Anderson in "Duo seraphim."
-- Charles T. Downey
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