23 September 2012


Emma commented before we left that we were going to party towns: Amsterdam and Berlin. Certainly, there’s a visiting population that parties in Amsterdam: young, stoned, sexed up. But I’ve also seen a liveliness and joy in living in the older locals. It’s strange to say this about the Concertgebouw but even stranger to say it about a concert at an austere Protestant church. Maybe it was the music, which was Monteverdi and Catholic or maybe it was the generous interval during a long work, but there was much congenial pleasure in the unrestrained chatter better the two sets.

We went to the Noorderkerk to hear the Amsterdamse Contorij and their Barokorkest, the Scuola Cantorum Amsterdam (singing Gregorian chant) and six singers perform Monteverdi’s Maria Vespers (Vespro della Beata Virgine). It’s a long work (~90mins) and it was performed with an interval. It sounds courtly and stately and features plainchant as a cantus firmus. It’s a new concept to me, but this cantus firmus chant states the themes for further development. The choir required for the Vespers is large as it must sing up to 10 vocal parts, split into two choirs and support seven voices (here 6 soloists). The chant and the solo voices sounded at home in this immensely echoey space. The voices seemed to grow as they held notes, then died away with waves of echo. What’s lovely for voice can be a mush for instruments or more complex parts and I did find it hard to follow individual lines when the musicians and singing were in full flight. But how they could fill such a space! Courtly and restrained sometimes, but also magnificent and blissfully forthright at others. Magnificent is an apt word for the baroque Catholic world and also fits this work given it features a Magnificat. The program gives a nice introduction to the work. “The Marian Vespers are structured according to the tradition of vespers as used in monastic liturgy, containing five psalms. These psalms, however, are monumental in scale and all combined with a so-called Concerto, written for soloists and instruments. The psalms are followed by one of the most remarkable movements: a Sonata to the litany ‘Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis’, an elaborate instrumental movement, with the Gregorian litany sung by the sopranos. After the Hymn ‘Ave Maris Stella’ the Vespers are concluded with the monumental Magnificat, like all other movements set to the original Gregorian cantus firmus.” (http://www.amsterdamsecantorij.nl/concerten_archief.php, viewed 23 Sep 2012) The orchestra appeared to be using period instruments. Certainly, there was a viola da gamba, a small boxed organ, a harpsichord, a thorbo (a bass lute with a 1.5m extension) and a row of trombones including at least one with two bells.

This was another magnificent musical outing on Euro soil performed for a local and knowing audience. As we set off, and as the audience mounted their bikes and departed in waves for the ride home, we mused on the good humour and conviviality in a profound musical setting. We were the unexpected tourist ring-ins at this event and loved it.

Claudio Monteverdi’s Maria Vespers (Vespro della Beata Virgine) was performed by the Amsterdamse Contorij and their Barokorkest, the the Scuola Cantorum Amsterdam under Marcel Ziljstra, and singers Marjon Strijk (soprano), Merel Kriegsman (soprano), Marcel Beekman (tenor), Harry van Berne (tenor), Jelle Draijer (bass) and Matthijs Mesdag (bass). Felix van den Hombergh conducted.

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