The Dunedin Consort gave a thrilling, visceral performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers at the Lammermuir festival a few years ago. For this year’s appearance, the ensemble returned to the composer, but on this occasion it was for an exploration of the secular side of his output.
Monteverdi’s work straddled the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque. It is full of tortured chromaticism that paints the emotion expressed in texts full of sighs and moans. It’s no wonder musicians familiar with the modernism of the 20th century took his music to their hearts during its rediscovery.
In this festival programme, performed with typical attention to detail and rock solid tuning (no mean feat in some of these works), the Dunedin Consort juxtaposed works for unaccompanied voices from the earlier books of madrigals with more declamatory pieces from the composer’s landmark final volume, Madrigals of War and Love.
In truth, the austere, stony grandeur of St Mary’s is probably better suited to the sacred side of Monteverdi’s output – you imagine the madrigals were performed in a fancy camera in a ducal palazzo in some Italian city state, and the vaulted surroundings lend a somewhat ecclesiastical feel to these unashamedly secular works. Yet what the venue lacks in appropriate ambience it makes up for in the clarity of its acoustic, and here the strategic placement of monitors meant the audience near the back of the nave had the opportunity to see the performers up close.
With the madrigals interspersed with instrumental works by Monteverdi’s contemporaries and a vocal work by Barbara Strozzi, this was an interesting, imaginative programme brought to life in a vivid performance from the singers and instrumentalists of the Dunedin Consort.