Monteverdi Vespers of 1610
All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, February 2020
Phoenix Choir succeeds magically in Monteverdi’s Vespers
The casual observer might think that choosing to perform a little-known musical masterpiece from 1610 was asking for failure. What’s more, Monteverdi’s Vespers can be presented in many differing ways: distinguished recordings conducted by Andrew Parrott, William Christie, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, John Eliot Gardiner, Lovro von Matacic and Philip Pickett offer contrasted approaches as regards soloists, accompaniments and tempi. So when Eastbourne’s Phoenix Choir’s Director Michael Fields chose to “go for it” at All Saints Church on a chilly 1st of February I went expecting to see a sparse audience while so many lovers of better-known choral works like “Messiah” stayed at home to watch the telly.
I could not have been more wrong! There was virtually a full house. I watched with fascination as the seventeen baroque instrumentalists made themselves comfortable. They were to play an outstanding role in the evening’s performance. I was shortly to be captivated from the very first notes of the “Deus in Adjuditorium” sung by sopranos Evelyn Tubb and Ansy Boothroyd. Soloists as famous and gifted as Evelyn would normally be far too expensive, but I have read online that she is well-known to Michael, so possibly that carried some weight.
Another Phoenix Choir from Maastricht in the Netherlands joined in the fun, and without question all the other soloists were perfectly balanced either to blend with, or to stand out from, the many choral delights. Jennie Cassidy combined playing the sackbut with singing solos; and the other soloists gradually made me realize that I should hear more of Monterverdi. Daniel Thomson, Paul Bentley-Angell and Roberto Balconi came with impressive details of past triumphs, which were borne out in the work we were hearing. Dan Jordan, Director of Music at Eastbourne College is known to me mainly as a pianist, but here he displayed a resonant bass voice which easily filled the church.
So impressed was I that in the wine-sweetened interval I canvassed other comments. Without exception my admiration for the entire presentation was supported. If, dear readers, you were unfortunate enough to be somewhere else, you really did miss something sensational. To pick out further details for comment would falsify the experience, for it was the perfect matching of music to presentation which resulted in such a triumph. If Phoenix Choir can maintain this standard then Michael Fields may well find himself having to do two-night stands, perhaps in different churches or concert-halls. Congratulations, and here’s to next time!
Review by Robin Gregory