How curious that, at noon, the smallest crowd thus far was treated to three works for the rare combination of cello and harp. The oldest composition of the lot was written in 2001; the newest being the world première of Caroline Lizotte’s Close for Couloir as well as the Ottawa première of Three Meditations of Light by Jocelyn Morlock. (Don’t premières generate the same sort of excitement as, say, a new symphony by Gustav Mahler anymore?)
Seven hours later, the same venue was jammed to the rafters for music composed more than 400 years ago. One has to imagine that the overwhelming majority of the throng were experiencing their first live performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers. How delighted (and likely surprised) the liturgy-infused composer might be to realize the marquee value of his brand in a city thousands of kilometres (and worlds apart in more ways than one) away from its first hearings in Venice (more than likely, not even a “complete” performance at the outset, according to the program note by Ann Monoyios).
Doubtless there weren’t any accredited arts reporters in 1610 to “cover” the heavenly extravaganza. Fast forward to the 21st century, the sold-out crowd relegated your faithful scribe to the bleachers where a seat was finally scrounged up (the source cannot be revealed as a condition of—along with the performers—sitting in a relatively quiet chair, as compared to the shuddering pews). My vantage point behind the ticketed Renaissance/Baroque (Monteverdi is largely thought to have bridged the musical gap between eras: look no further than “Duo Seraphim” and compare that with Corelli’s Church Sonatas) was also in the pathway for the motion-challenged listeners as they rolled by to their assigned places.
Happily, unlike the previous evening’s program featuring mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, both the original texts and their English translations (presumably the French Catholics were already well-versed in the Latin) were provided for the enlightenment of the audience.
Sadly, this gala event’s house program failed to accurately delineate just when intermission would occur, causing many of the faithful to show their appreciation before the final number (“Lauda Jerusalem”) had been heard.
Once director/harpsichordist Alexander Weimann began the truly incredible demonstration of Monteverdi’s mastery (and innovation) of colour, emotion, counterpoint, dissonance/consonance, balance and word painting, it was immediately apparent that there is now an urgent need for the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival to have a venue worthy of the talents and skills of its practitioners (whether their art is actually in the realm of chamber music or not) and their devoted admirers.
Perhaps the most disconcerting part of the performance was Weimann’s dual role: at times conducting, at others performing stand-up harpsichord as the music required. Directing everything and employing someone else to realize the keyboard continuo would most certainly have improved the overall ensemble. Herbert von Karajan, I recall, solved the dilemma in a performance of Vivaldi’s The Seasons (with Anne-Sophie Mutter, cross-reference below) by having one harpsichord installed on his extended podium and another harpsichordist at his usual place in the orchestra. In this fashion, the venerable maestro could add his instrumental interventions at will and also be able to sit throughout the entire work.
Without a predictable, solid anchor the ensemble between the instrumentalists and vocalists was almost as varied as the dozen components of Monteverdi’s masterpiece. When the soloist(s) stood in front of Weimann, they were largely left to their own devices to keep in sync with their colleagues. As a master of rhythmic transitions and innate ability to select spot-on tempi, here’s hoping Weimann will take a more active, leading role in future performances and concentrate entirely on the music at hand. JWR