The exuberance of Monteverdi's music for the church has tempted many contemporary performers to go whole hog with big choruses, trumpets and all the other trappings of opulence that the Monteverdi name and visions of St. Mark's Cathedral suggest. Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Consort and Players have resisted this temptation firmly. With just eight singers and five instrumentalists, this excellent ensemble brought a finely crafted performance of music for a Venetian Vesper Service to the Washington National Cathedral last night, alternating polyphonic settings of the canticles and psalms with plainsong antiphons and verses sung by a small group of men from the Cathedral Choir.
Lost in the small scale of the performance was the sense of majesty. In its place, however, was a panorama of revealed elegance, of florid lines that projected with clarity and ease and rhythmic integrity, of dramatic chromaticisms that emerged quietly, and above all, of subtle textures and sonorities. Each singer contributed a distinctive sound and Parrott mixed and matched them differently for each of the vespers' eight main movements. The instruments, two violins, a violone or bass viol, a theorbo, which is a long-necked lute-like instrument, and a lovely small portative organ played by Parrott himself, provided gentle accompaniment and interludes, and the chant choir, singing from the back of the chancel, added the sense of space that was a hallmark of music in St. Mark's.
Standing out in an evening of considerable stylistic variety was the "Laudate Dominum" with its descending chromatic scales and its dancing "Gloria Patri," and an interpolated violin sonata, played with wonderful virtuosity and attention to stylistic details.
The concert was recorded for future broadcast on WETA-FM.