A powerful and exquisite performance at Ely Cathedral - review

David Miller and theorbo

David Miller and theorbo - Credit: Archant

Dr Rosemary J Westwell - A review of Ely Choral Society’s Monteverdi Vespers 1610 concert in Ely Cathedral


sackbut - Credit: Archant

There is nothing finer than pure, clear, well focused voices filling the huge vaults of a magnificent cathedral.

Andrew Parnell knew this and we witnessed a highly successful manifestation of his vision. With uncanny skill, he inspired Ely Choral Society and Ely Youth Choir to re invigorated by the sheer beauty of the 17th century composer Monteverdi’s music and presented a magnificent performance of his Vespers 1610 in Ely Cathedral, the ideal venue for such as occasion.

In addition, he had the courage to move the choir stands in front of the octagon so that the sound would be sent straight down the nave and this made all the difference.

Sometimes branching into as many as six parts, the choir produced a powerful, exquisite mass of sound that flowed constantly, the inner workings providing continual interest and variation, revealing the favoured harmonies of the day, which were often decorated with well executed and integrated embellishments.

Andrew Parnell

Andrew Parnell - Credit: Archant

Even though the score was one of the most difficult the choir has faced, they certainly rose to the occasion this time.

Ely Youth Choir demonstrated significant improvement since they first began and the clarity and strength of their singing was particularly impressive.

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The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and Edmund Aldhouse on the chamber organ also added to the performance, the mellow tone of the instruments blending perfectly with the voices, so much so, that it is difficult to understand why these instruments are not being used to accompany singers still.

Instruments like cornetti and recorders (played by Gawain Glenton, Sam Goble and Nick Perry), sackbuts (Miguel Tantos Sevillano, Claire McIntyre and Adrian France), violins (Pavlo Beznosiuk, Dominika Fehér and Melanie Woodcock) and theorbo (David Miller) often set the pace and scene or melted into the musical fabric to create magical effects.

A group of expert soloists from the Dmitri Ensemble enhanced the sound considerably and featured sopranos Helen Ashby and Kate Ashby, tenors Aidan Coburn, Nicholas Scott, and Stefan Kennedy and basses William Gaunt and Nicholas Mogg.

The theorbo was a particularly sympathetic accompanying instrument to the soloists’ performances. It was easy to imagine we had moved back the centuries to listen to music of the highest quality of the day.

This was indeed a magnificent event.

The next event will be a Swing concert with Cathedral Choirs, Ely Youth Choir, Ely Imps, Ely Cathedral Octagon Singers and Ely Consort in Ely Cathedral on Saturday June 13.