Monteverdi - Vespers - The Torbay Singers

I first encountered The Torbay Singers prior to their performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio on Saturday 7th December 2013 at St Matthias’ Church in Torquay. Although I did write occasional blog articles back then, I had a tendency only to do so after long tours and even then I kept only the briefest of notes as an aide-memoire. In July 2013, for example, I wrote just seventy words after making my debut with the Gabrieli Consort in the Beaune Festival and we performed live on French television. I would have written considerably more about something like that these days (for comparison, I wrote 2820 words about performing at the Concertgebouw with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century in December 2017). I write these articles mostly for my own benefit, as I like to keep a record of where I go and what I do… before I forget!

Without an archived blog article to jog my memory I was pleasantly surprised that I could remember a fair amount about that performance in December 2013. I remember the trumpet section consisted of myself on first trumpet, Conor Hastings on second trumpet and Katie McClaughry on third trumpet, though my memory doesn’t quite extend to recalling who played timpani. I also remember meeting the oboist Mark Radcliffe at Hammersmith station. Mark gave me and the Spanish flautist Eva Cabalero a lift to Torquay and back. I also remember Eva asking a gentleman in Torquay for directions to St. Matthias’ Church through the wound-down window in Mark’s Alfa Romeo. The hilarious confusion that ensued was worthy of inclusion in a sitcom (possibly Fawlty Towers, on account of the mutual Torquay connection). I also remember the excellent performance, the friendly choir and their high standard of singing and I remember that they made sure we were welcomed and well looked-after.

I was delighted to return to Torquay in Devon to perform in The Torbay Singers’ performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610). The performance, part of the choir’s 50th anniversary season, took place on Saturday 24th March 2018 at All Saints Church in Babbacombe. I’m delighted to report that some things haven’t changed since 2013 - the choir gave an excellent performance again, were still very friendly, they had maintained their high standard of singing and we were certainly welcomed warmly and very well looked after. Thank you to all concerned.

The performance was conducted by Tina Guthrie (as was the aforementioned performance in 2013) and it had been an long-held ambition of hers to perform Monteverdi’s Vespers with The Torbay Singers. Tina did an excellent job conducting the choir, instrumentalists and soloists in this highly complex piece of music. She had clearly done her homework on the tempo relationships and her conducting was well-measured and consistent throughout. We played at A=440Hz and the Magnificat was untransposed. The cornetts and sackbutts played in most of the choral movements of the Vespers and Tina had carefully highlighted where we should play and stop playing in each movement.

Cornetto I - Russell Gilmour
Cornetto II - Nick Wright
Cornetto III - Gareth Hoddinott

Sackbutt I - Martyn Sanderson
Sackbutt II - Phil Dale
Bass Sackbutt - Guy Morley

Theorbo - Lynda Sayce

When Tina had initially contacted me, she invited me to play the cornetto and to book the other early brass players as well as the theorbo player. I was delighted to be able to fix these players for the performance and I was very pleased with the early brass section. Tina had also booked an excellent period-instrument string section and so we had a fantastic band. Lynda Sayce’s theorbo playing was a particular highlight of the concert for me. She played brilliantly throughout and she virtuosically accompanied the soloists in the Nigra Sum (tenor solo), Pulchra Es (soprano duet), Duo Seraphim (tenor duet) and Audi Coelum (tenor trio). It was a delight to witness the triumphs of her dextrousness from such close proximity.

As well as having an excellent choir and instrumental colleagues - we also had excellent soloists:

Sopranos: Julia Featherstone & Denise Kehoe
Alto: Rowena Brown
Tenors: Daniel Thomson, Paul Bentley-Angell & Artur Stabrawa (Audi Coelum)
Basses: Nick Viner (Laudate Pueri & Laetatus Sum), Simon Milner (Laudate Pueri & Ave Maris Stella), Peter Lewis (Laetatus Sum), Ian Howard (Dixit Dominus) & Keith Pohl (Dixit Dominus).

All the soloists were brilliant - but I have to say that the tenors Daniel Thomson and Paul Bentley-Angell were phenomenal. They seemed able to sing these virtuosic parts effortlessly.

My fiancée had come with me to Devon so that she could make some arrangements for our wedding which will take place at Dartington Hall (in Devon) later this year. We were very kindly offered accommodation with a member of the choir at a beautiful farmhouse on Dartmoor (not too far from Dartington, in fact). We had a wonderful evening and a fantastic breakfast with our charming hosts and their delightful Labrador, Topaz.

Thank you to all involved in this wonderful performance and bravo to the Torbay Singers and Tina Guthrie in particular.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.