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Voci di Venezia

St John's Church, Keswick
23 January 2010

For his first concert as conductor of the Wordsworth Singers Mark Hindley didn’t choose an easy path but one which challenged the choir and in the main was very successful. His programme entitled "Voci di Venezia" was given in St John's Church, Keswick last Saturday and consisted of music from the sixteenth and seventeenth century associated with St Mark's, Venice either through influence or directly.  Such composers as Monteverdi, Giovanni Gabrieli and Schütz may be familiar to many of us but there were also works by less well known composers such as Willaert, Andrea Gabrieli, Croce and Hassler. The challenge of performing these works comes in their construction and the forces they employ. Only one of the works was written for the normal four part choir, with which we are so familiar, but the thirty two singers were frequently split into two and sometimes three choirs. To add to the difficulty of performing these works the choirs were sometimes placed around the Church to the front, sides and behind the audience with the conductor having to control these polychoral effects whilst standing in the middle at some distance from the performers. In addition to the choirs there was also a very fine brass quartet consisting of two trumpets and two trombones who joined with the singers as a separate group. To hear this type of music live, performed in such an authentic way is a very rare and overwhelming experience and one that any electronic media cannot accurately replicate.

One must congratulate the performers on the ease with which they repositioned themselves in the church between each piece which helped the concert flow. Only a choir of the calibre of the Wordsworth Singers can really do these pieces justice as they make considerable demands on the performers in both the complexity of the writing and the vocal range. Not all the vocal entries in the contrapuntal sections were assured and there was some lack of focus in some of the more complex rhythms and change of metre,nevertheless the overriding experience was of an excellent choir with a true musical understanding. There were some real highlights and the performance of Schütz’s motet Der engel sprach zu den Hirten and works in the second half by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and Hassler will not easily be forgotten.

Mention should also be made of the brass who played with great musicality in two solo works and enhanced enormously many of the choral works. This was an excellent start to Mark Hindley's reign as conductor and if this programme is anything to go by Cumbria is in for some very interesting vocal concerts which should not be missed.