Superb soloists shine with Cantata Singers in Monteverdi’s “Vespers”

December 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

By Stefanie Lubkowski

David Hoose conducted the Cantata Singers in Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610” Saturday night at St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge. Photo: Michael Lutch

The Cantata Singers certainly filled St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge with a big and bright sound, yet it was in the duets, trios, and other quiet moments that they truly shone in Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 Saturday night.

This collection of five psalm settings interspersed with four motets and a hymn, and culminating with an expansive Magnificat sets texts associated with feast days devoted to the Virgin Mary. Despite the liturgical origins of the words, Monteverdi employed the full range of styles available to him, from plainchant to operatic arias. Conductor David Hoose guided the soloists and large ensemble through all of Monteverdi’s stylistic shifts with a seamless grace that unified the piece into an ornately detailed whole.

From his first solo in the operatic recitative “Nigra Sum” to his last duet in the Magnificat, tenor Jason Sabol delivered clearly rendered ornaments and sensitive phrasing with a rich and slightly reedy tone perfectly suited to early Baroque repertoire. Sabol’s seamless expressiveness helped turn “Duo Seraphim”—a trio with fellow tenors Eric Perry and Stephen Williams—into a friendly duel in which each voice led the other to new heights. Along with this trio, Eric Perry and Sabol created another of the evening’s dramatic highlights with their performance of the antiphonal duet “Audi coelom,” in which Sabol matched Perry phrase for phrase as his offstage echo.

The women soloists supplied equally beautiful vocalism. Soprano Hannah McMeans displayed a remarkably pure and rich voice that blended perfectly with her duet partners Lisa Lynch in “Pulchra es” and Kynesha Patterson in “Laetatus sum.”

Unfortunately, the Cantata Singers chorus, while filling the space with a sufficiently resonant sound, was often muddy and unfocused, especially in the tutti sections and at more intense dynamics. In the quieter and more contrapuntal passages, such as in “Audi coelum” the chorus regained their balance and clarity. “Ave maris stella,” with its quiet unison passages and contrapuntal highlighting of each section, was the chorus’s best singing of the evening.

The period-instrument orchestra also had some of its finest moments in “Ave maris stella,” providing lovely timbral contrasts with a recorder duet and brass quintet between vocal sections. Soloists Majie Zeller (mezzo soprano) and Ian Pomerantz (tenor) also stood out in this passage.

For the final multimovement Magnificat, the chorus and ensemble left all their weak moments behind for a truly majestic finale that gave the audience all the vocal beauty that keeps this 400-year-old-music on today’s concert programs. Monteverdi’s nuanced writing gave each section of the chorus ample opportunities to show off their wonderful tone and full command of the music’s expressive dimensions.

The twelve subsections of this Magnificat also allowed the audience to hear the evening’s wonderful soloists again. Eric Perry and Jason Sabol supplied sweet harmonies in their duet on “Et exultavit” and later reprised their antiphonal roles from “Audi coelum” in the concluding Gloria Patri. We also heard second duets between Hannah McMeans and Lisa Lynch and Kynesha Patterson. In “Suscepit Israel,” Patterson took a more prominent role, and it was a delight to hear her lovely and powerful voice.

Even the period-instrument orchestra, which was previously uneven at times in their balance and articulation, provided not only wonderful timbral contrast, but moments of true beauty. Most remarkable were a virtuosic cornetto solo and a melodious violin duet before the women’s duets.

Conductor Hoose was particularly impressive in his handling of the many parts in which soloists were accompanied not only by instruments, but by small subsections of the chorus. Here the singers and ensemble reached a perfect balance within the resonant, high-ceilinged church for some of the most sublime moments of the evening.

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