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FOR their concert in Hexham Abbey Antiphon’s ambitious choice was Monteverdi’s monumental Baroque masterpiece, the Vespers of 1610.

A challenge to choir and soloists alike. It’s said that the work was his CV aimed at securing a transfer from the court of Mantua to St Mark’s in Venice.

True or not, it worked. He got the job and stayed there for the rest of his life. The 12 vespers run the whole gamut of styles and emotions from the deeply devotional to the frankly operatic, held together by a plainchant cantus firmus which weaves its way throughout the work.

The choir, led by John Roper, rose brilliantly to the challenge; there’s not a weak section among them and their enthusiasm was obvious. They were supported by seven equally inspiring soloists.

The chamber orchestra Nouvelle/Ancienne was led by former Abbey chorister and now Doctor of Music Andrew Passmore. While we didn’t have the lutes, viols and sackbuts of the 1610 version, we did have lots of candles and an organ which emitted a strange red glow.

The work opened dramatically, if rather stridently, on two trumpets high in the organ loft with a theme from Monteverdi‘s opera Orfeo, recycled presumably on the principle that if you’ve got a good tune you should make the most of it.

There were too many memorable moments to mention, but the sensual love duet for sopranos, Pulchra es, and the tenor duet where one singer echoes the other in Audi coelum, stand out.

The vespers end as dramatically as they began, with a reprise of the Orfeo trumpet tune in this performance.

A cold evening, a full house and a performance that made it well worthwhile to leave the comfort of the hearth.

Derek Harris

02.12.2016 11:07
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