Leave it to the Italians to teach us about beauty. Concerto Italiano’s performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin was all about effortlessly flowing beautiful singing. The ensemble specialises in early Baroque repertoire and under conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini they demonstrated the flexible expressiveness and controlled refinement of Italian cantabile at its most sublime.
Monteverdi’s complex writing required the ten-part choir to sing sometimes as three separate choirs and also as soloists where the Concerto Italiano singers delighted in the freedom of ornamenting their solo line. The choir blended warmly with the organ and penetrated through the instrumental accompaniment with a focussed brightness where required.
The period instruments included a continuo of organ and two theorbos (lutes with a long neck extension) with the addition in some movements of strings and brass including three trombones and double bass. The resulting weighty bass sound highlighted Monteverdi’s groundbreaking technique pioneering a basso continuo in vocal music.
Monteverdi’s other great achievement as a composer was to reintroduce the importance of the text in vocal writing. Unfortunately the program for this concert didn’t include the text of the Vespers (in Latin or English) so Monteverdi’s efforts at matching poetry to music were difficult to appreciate.
So the focus returned to the singers and fortunately they were exquisite. The duetting sopranos in the Motet Pulcha es decorated each note with delicate tonal colours and lightly-spun ornaments. Three male vocalists gave an achingly beautiful performance of the Motet Duo Seraphim delivering the trillo (aptly nicknamed the “goat’s trill”) ornament with a smoothness and lightness I’d never thought possible. Monteverdi’s call and response technique in the Magnificat was emphasised by performers turning their backs or singing  their responses off stage – another aspect of Alessandrini’s attention to sound quality that made Concerto Italiano’s performance one of the best you’ll hear.
This review copyright The West Australian 2016.