There is probably no other space in London that affords so many opportunities as does the Royal Albert Hall to recreate St Marks in Venice. Thus, the Monteverdi Choir processed down the stairs at either side of the stage during the opening response of Monteverdis Vespers, Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina (which presented some difficulty for the accompanying chittaroni), and soloists vanished and reappeared in various spots around the hall.
Most spectacular was Audi coelum, in which Andrew Tortises supple and thrilling tenor was echoed from up in the gallery by Peter Davoren, who himself had given a moving Nigra sum earlier; their impassioned duetting from opposite sides of the hall in the final Magnificat was possibly the highlight of the evening for me.
The Monteverdi Choir, in a rather youthful incarnation, were on excellent form throughout, if perhaps, unusually, occasionally imprecise with their ends of phrases; their full-throated enthusiasm in the untransposed versions of Lauda Jerusalem and the Magnificat was a joy to hear. The superb combined forces of the London Oratory Junior Choir and the Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School played their part, too, particularly with their Sancta Maria from the gallery, floating serenely above the increasingly syncopated instrumental interludes.
The orchestra is so often overshadowed and overlooked in performances of the Vespers, but that the English Baroque Soloists and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts didnt stand out was only to their credit: however, we certainly heard and felt them in the opening chorus, and their rhythmic precision drove the evening along, without ever being too forceful.
And what of the man out in front of it all? Sir John Eliot Gardiner has now performed the Vespers four times at the Proms since his debut here in 1968, and his interpretations, whether live or on disc, have always been vivid and energised. If some of his tempi seemed a little hectic (occasionally resulting in uncomfortable changes to and from triple-time), that is surely only a sign of his enthusiasm for, and dedication to, this music. He perhaps more than anyone else is responsible for the re-establishment of the work in the mainstream repertoire: so thank you, Sir John.