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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 10, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 50
Seattle awakens to an ancient glory
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle awakens to an ancient glory

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Monteverdi's '1610 Vespers'
December 3
St. James Cathedral


It's easy to critique a bad concert; the flaws are usually all too evident. But it's much harder to describe the magic combination of elements that make for a wondrous concert like that at St. James Cathedral, where we heard Monteverdi's '1610 Vespers,' presented by the Early Music Guild.

Let me start by congratulating the EMG on choosing St. James instead of Town Hall, where most EMG concerts are given. The acoustics of the cathedral immediately wrapped singers and the instrumentalists into a resonant, perfectly blended wall of sound. It didn't much matter where one sat; those stone walls and floors let no vibrations escape. Even though I sat behind the performers, I could not have asked for better sound. Recorded music can't even approach this effect. Of course, Monteverdi wrote this music for exactly this special acoustical environment.

The wise choices behind Stephen Stubbs' empathetic and energetic conducting made this 400-year-old masterpiece a delight from beginning to end. The smaller, chamber-scaled pieces beautifully contrasted the larger numbers. Stubbs' excitement permeated every note and every performer. It's boring to say that neither the singers nor the instrumentalists could be faulted. How can I detail so many particular beauties that kept this two-hour program exciting?

First, the piercing trumpet-like notes from the smallish cornets, contrasted against the mellow trombone-like choir of sackbuts, kept refreshing our ears with their unique noise. They were the fireworks in the blazing sound of the whole ensemble.

At the risk of slighting equally excellent performers, let me take as an example the fascinating contrast between the two principal tenors, Ross Hauck and Jason McStoots. Hauck, who performed in a leg brace from a soccer injury, had a masculine, gritty quality, with lots of body in his sound. McStoots, on the other hand, produced tones of such lovely purity that he combined the best qualities of a tenor with those of a boy soprano, without ever becoming "white" or lacking in warmth. When the two of them sang a duet, with McStoots echoing Hauck's phrases from high up in the distant choir loft, this contrast produced a heavenly effect, not soon to be forgotten.

Stephen Stubbs, director of the new Pacific Musicworks, has returned to his native Seattle after 30 years in Europe. He brought the forces of this performance together, made the choices of which music to include and of nine soloists instead of a larger choir, and realized that St. James Cathedral had "an acoustic and architectural equivalent of Monteverdi's San Marco right here in the home town" he left long ago! We are privileged to have such a dynamic force in our midst, serving to further stimulate the already lively early music scene in Seattle.

This two-night performance of the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers was the first in the Pacific Northwest in 30 years. It rivaled putting on operas in complexity. Only Stubbs could have gathered the two cornetto and three sackbut players of Concerto Palatino, the members of Seattle Baroque Orchestra and St. James Cathedral's artists-in-residence, along with the nine vocalists for such a monumental work. The near-capacity audiences were, I'm sure, aware they were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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