Vancouver Cantata Singers

Mostly Monteverdi

Performed by Vancouver Cantata Singers, The Whole Noyse, and members of Pacific Baroque Orchesta, directed by James Fankhauser

Holy Rosary Cathedral, October 30-31

Some programs are arranged with the care of a good visual art exhibition. This evening featured Venetian music from the late Renaissance/early Baroque (circa 1550-1650). The name of the concert was commercial kitsch, and some of the audience included disdainful, socially retarded Period Music snobs, but the concert itself was a marvelous combination of instrumental and vocal performances. Liturgical music from Venice reflected the incredible economic and aesthetic riches that fell into the city-state's lap at this time. Musical patronage was a means of showing a merchant's wealth, like architecture or the size of one's personal army.

Opera had been recently reborn from speculation about the ancient Greek tradition. Composers were being offered a new level of freedom, and both the public and private sector heavily susidized the arts. Conservatories were raising standards. Christendom was strong, and while secular music was gaining ground, musicians still cherished writing music for the church.

Most of the Monteverdi pieces heard this evening were from his Selva morale e spitiuale, a celebration of Vespers written in 1641. Vespers was a Catholic office emphasising music that allowed organizers to mix and match composers, genres and ensembles, and was what this concert reflected. The music reflected a near-perfect cultural health.

The show started with a canzona by Giovanni Gabrielli for wind instruments. The intonation was poor and the entrances tentative, which brought to mind how uncomfortable the seats were. Following this was a collection of spellbinding performances at the hand of local treasure James Fankhauser, who resolved the evening's lacklustre outing with Vancouver Cantata Singers' perfect command of period acoustics and sinuous blending. Members of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra had to fight at first to be heard, but they found the appropriate register quickly. Two wonderful sopranos, Linda Perillo and Julia Olson, performed Monteverdi's Psalm 110 with a warm rapport. When The Whole Noyse performed their second canzona, this one by Frescobaldi, they nailed it, completing the spell of the concert's programming.

The highlights came with Monteverdi's Magnificat, featuring all the resources at Fankhauser's disposal. It was overwhelming to be a witness to that degree of religious pride, untainted by defensive posturing.

The evening concluded with another work by Giovanni Gabrieli, this one for double chorus and instruments. It was a testament to their city's success in life: church and state holding hands and shouting "We're Number One!" out of pure joy. The strength of the music and its conviction was genuinely rapturous, even for those not spiritually inclined. All the while maestro Fankhauser seemed to be as much taken in by the spell as anyone else. -- John Keillor