The Levens Choir gave their first two concerts under their new Music Director Gawain Glenton, accompanied by the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble (ECSE).
Gawain is an internationally renowned virtuoso of Venetian Renaissance music and his choice of music reflects his expertise.
His focus for these concerts was the work of Claudio Monteverdi.
The opening piece, Domine ad adiuvandum, kicked off – a veritable fanfare of voices and instruments with great support from the soloists, one of whom was recruited at short notice.
The choir was in perfect sync and perfect note from the start.
This piece, which is part of Monteverdi’s best-known work, Vespers of 1610, had a clear understanding of choir and ensemble and set the tone for the evening.
Then followed Alessandro Grandi’s Nisi Dominus, sung by the soloists with the sackbuts providing fine accompaniment and the choir supporting – a showcase for the craftsmanship of professional musicians.
Domine ne in furore by Monteverdi gave the choir the opportunity to demonstrate their skills, providing a beautiful round and rich sound, aided by sympathetic acoustics.
Other highlights included Franzoni’s Sancta Maria, where female vocals beautifully complemented the sackbut bass notes; Beata es virgo by Gabrieli, who gave the ECSE a vehicle to demonstrate its prowess on these rarely heard early instruments; and the conclusion to the first half of the concert, Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir, which saw the choir move text from section to section flawlessly.
Your reviewer remembered the Hilliard Ensemble with Jan Gabarek more than once – the way the voices and instruments complemented each other was very similar.
High praise indeed.
And so on to the second half, where the choir gave us a rich, deep, resonant sound in Monteverdi’s Cantata Domino, followed by their Adoramus te, Christe, a much softer piece with lovely clear lines from the violas.
The Audi coelum featured the tenor soloists in counterpoint from opposite sides of the church.
Grillo’s Sonata prima had all seven musicians, with Gawain leading on the cornet, playing with remarkable agility and lightness.
Then back to Monteverdi to conclude the concert – his Ave Maria Stella showed its characteristic variations on a simple air and the final Amen was glorious; and finally, the Magnificat primo, which was truly magnificent and featured a beautiful double bass duo from the choir, brought things to a rousing conclusion.
The applause at the end was long, warm and fully deserved.
Overall: The soloists were clearly very familiar with the works, played well and bonded with the choir seamlessly; the ECSE were absolute masters of their art and played with obvious brilliance; and the program was interesting and varied, providing the perfect introduction to the genre for the uninitiated.
And the choir was beautiful.
The energy throughout was evident – many of the singers had big smiles – and Gawain’s commentary provided background information that added greatly to the enjoyment.
After nearly 50 years under the direction of its founder, Ian Jones, who built the choir’s deserved reputation, the future with Gawain Glenton at the helm looks just as bright. Cheer.