Monteverdi - Vespers - St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

I was involved in a performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square in London. The performance took place at 8pm on Saturday 30th January 2016 and it was given by the choir of Royal Holloway, University of London - directed by Rupert Gough. The orchestra was provided by Bob Porter and was called the ‘Brandenburg Baroque Soloists’. It consisted of early instrument specialists and there were more than a few highly-respected names from the profession present.

The performance of the Vespers began in the usual way, with the glorious sounds of Venice in the well-known adapted ‘toccata’ opening. The soloists stepped forward from the choir to be closer to the chamber organ for a few solo and duet moments and the solos had been distributed between the members of the choir. A particular highlight, ‘Sonata: Sancta Maria Ora Pro Nobis’ opened the second half of the concert with a show of virtuosity from the violins, cornetts and trombones. The ritornello within the hymn 'Ave Maris Stella' provided us with an opportunity to ornament upon the repeats, and the instrumentation alternated between the 'brass' and string sections for variation. 

Unconventionally, the director of the choir had made the decision to perform the vocal version of the Magnificat (in 6 parts) - opting to add occasional instrumental doublings to the vocal lines. We all played from the 6-part scores, upon which the director had marked in pencil where we should play. While this music was still exceptionally beautiful, I did miss the wonderful magnificat in its larger setting, particularly the ritornello in the Quia Respexit and the echo cornetti in the Deposuit - which are always wonderful moments for us.

The early brass section consisted of: David Staff, Russell Gilmour and Darren Moore on cornetts, with Stephanie Dyer, Hilary Belsey and Andrew Lester on sackbutts.

After the candlelit concert, several of the players retired to The Harp in Chandos Place for ale and to socialise with the musicians from the surrounding venues - including players from English National Opera (from the Coliseum) and also musicians from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

It's always great to play at St. Martin-in-the-Fields - a reverred venue known by hundreds of musicians over the centuries. It is mentioned in the book I am reading at the moment, the diary of John Grano - one of G. F. Händel's trumpet players in London in the 18th Century.

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