Review – La Venexiana – 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music


Note: this concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 7pm 1 June. Don’t miss it!

For the last two years I’ve been excited to attend the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in London’s St. John’s Smith Square. In Seattle, I used to see a Baroque (or Renaissance, or Medieval) concert about 10 times a year, and after nearly two years of no early music, I was excited to find a banquet at which I could fill my plate over and over again, if only for two weeks’ time. I chose five concerts from this year’s offering (twelve concerts in total) – buying them in February – then settled down to wait.

The festival started in spectacular style with La Venexiana, whom I’m pretty sure I’ve seen before. They performed Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610,” a lovely collection of liturgical music written apparently over several years. The texts of the Vespers felt like a very Renaissance mix of sacred and secular: several psalms, “Ave maris stella,” but also some florid selections from the Song of Solomon that sounded very much like love songs (“While the king lay upon his bed, my perfume gave off an odor of sweetness”) and not particularly religious.

The evening opened with an incredible wall of sound: eleven singers and seventeen musicians with crystal-clear projection and tonal perfection nearly blew me out of my chair. Whew! This was some church music! I felt very much in the hands of a master! This feeling was further emphasized by the intense conducting style of Claudio Cavina, who seemed like nothing so much as a puppet master pulling every single singer’s string in a way I found kind of creepy (visions of abusive rehearsals and people debasing themselves to get in his favor kept bubbling up in my head). But there was no denying the results; each singer was perfection. In fact, one of the men singing tenor had this incredible breathy kind of breaks in his solos that reminded me of some movies I’ve seen set in this era – in some ways just over the top, but really done to perfection and incredibly well matched to the music. It may have been a “style” but it sounded great. I’ve got notes in my program for “Laudate pueri” and “Due Seraphim” noting how good the tenors were (quote: “goosebumps”); and they did just hit it again and again. “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am black but beautiful) was heartbreakingly beautiful. If this is what having a control freak does to a choral group, I’m afraid to say I probably approve, though it seems a bit like saying yes to veal or foie gras.

I could probably add to this many notes on what an amazing composer Monteverdi is, how his “Audi coelum” was filled with longing, his “Pulchra es” passionate, his “Dixit dominus” captured the babbling brook in “de torrente.” But this is no surprise. Monteverdi is great, and his choral music exquisite; I feel lucky to have attended this show.

Next: Friday the 14th’s show of La Risonanza and Paolo Pandolfo – but as I’ve seen another concert tonight clearly I must get this published or I will get too, too far behind!

(This review is for a show that took place on Thursday, May 13th, 2010. The 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music continues through May 22nd.)

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One Response to “Review – La Venexiana – 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music”

  1. Winnie Says:

    Thanks for the review. it would be great to have the name of the performers.

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