Enter the National Physical Laboratory campus via the Queen’s Road, Teddington entrance. Take the second exit at the roundabout left onto Bushy Road (signed NPL Sports Club). At the T-junction, turn right into Glazebrook Road. Bushy House is the large 18th-century redbrick building. Enter via the main door (white columns) or smaller door to the left. Turn left – the Scientific Museum is at the end of the corridor.
The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin – Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Saturday 8th December 2012, Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington
Twickenham Choral Society & Brandenberg Baroque Soloists
Sopranos: Philippa Boyle & Grace Davidson
Tenors: Peter Morton & David Webb
Basses: Lukas Kargl & Charles Rice
Conductor: Christopher Herrick
Twickenham Choral Society, with the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, and six solo singers, gave an enjoyable and very committed performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers to a sold out Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington.
Contrary to popular musical myth, Monteverdi did not write the Vespers especially for St Mark’s in Venice, though they may have been performed there. Nor were they specifically an ‘audition piece’ for the post of maestro di cappella. The work may have been written for wedding festivities in the church of St Andrea, Mantua, for the text contains the sensuous love poetry drawn from the Song of Solomon. The birth of the composer’s daughter, whose namesake was that of the Blessed Virgin, may also have been a motivation for the composition. Whatever the origins of the work’s composition, it is Monteverdi’s first sacred work. Published in Venice in 1610, the work is monumental in scale, requiring a choir large enough to cover up to 10 vocal parts in some movements, and split into separate choirs in others. The choir is also required to accompany several soloists.
Vespers were recited or sung in the evening, and the text of Monteverdi’s vespers adheres to the traditional order of the office of Vespers: it includes recitation of psalms, the singing of the Marian office hymn Ave Maris stella, and culminates in a Magnificat (the Song of Mary). The psalm settings are those used for the feast days of Mary and other female saints. In addition to these standard movements, Monteverdi also included motets for one, two, three and six voices, and an instrumental sonata movement into which the chant Sancta Maria ora pro nobis is skillfully woven. The work has become one of the most popular from this period of late Renaissance/early Baroque music, not least because it combines the profundity of the liturgy with secular music, and presents an array of musical forms – sonata, hymn, motet and psalm – without comprising the scale or cohesiveness of the complete work.
The venue for the concert, The Landmark in Teddington, a deconsecrated church turned arts centre, was perfect for this music in both atmosphere and acoustic, and there were times, particularly in the Concerto: Audi coelum, a tenor duet with “echoes” and choir, during which one of the tenors sang the echoes from the back of the apse, to the accompaniment of theorbo, when we might have been in San Marco, Venice 400 years ago.
The choir were joined by the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, a new orchestra which plays period instruments, including three sackbuts, chamber organ, Baroque cornetti and theorbo. They provided an authentic accompaniment, underpinning the singing with devices distinct from this period such as ground basses, drones, and some fine ostinato ‘cello lines.
Founded in 1921, Twickenham Choral Society is an amateur vocal ensemble, which draws its membership from a wide area of west London, and has a proud tradition of performing a broad repertoire from every era. They rose to the many challenges of Monteverdi’s music and text (it is isn’t always easy to sing well in Latin) to give a highly committed performance which combined great clarity of diction and attention to detail, dynamic shading and colour, and at times deep emotion and drama. The polyphony and counterpoint were handled with aplomb, allowing us to enjoy the many strands of Monteverdi’s writing, and the choral set pieces were complemented by intimate writing for solo voices, accompanied by a single instrument, such as theorbo or ‘cello, or the choir. The first half closed with a rousing Psalm 147: Lauda Jerusalem, which shone with the celebratory joy implicit in the text.
This was an impressive and meticulously prepared performance, brought together under the skillful baton of conductor Christopher Herrick, who has been working with Twickenham Choral Society since 1974. I look forward to further performances by the society.
Étude, Op 10, no. 5 ‘Black Keys’, Mazurka in D, Op 33 no. 2, Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 no. 4, Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante
Anna Stachula, piano
While a brisk November gale whipped up fallen leaves in Bushy Park and rattled the long windows of the Scientific Museum at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Silesian-born pianist, Anna Maria Stachula, gave an impressive debut concert at the NPL Musical Society.
Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society (NPLMS) hosts regular lunchtime concerts in an elegant room in Bushy House. Concerts are very well-supported by staff, former staff and the general public, and the Society attracts a varied range of chamber musicians. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musuem, an intimate space with a hundred year old medium-sized Steinway, and fine views across Bushy Park.
Anna Maria Stachula first came to my notice through her teacher, John Humphreys (Birmingham Conservatoire). John described Anna as possessing the kind of talent and technique one could expect at the Wigmore Hall, but despite this, Anna is virtually unknown in the UK and her day job is in a post office sorting office (where, she told me after the concert, she listens to music through her headphones while she is sorting post).
In a programme of popular works by Schumann and Chopin, Anna played with huge commitment and conviction, technical assuredness, dynamic shading, and musical insight. The opening piece, Schumann’s ABEGG Variations had a romantic sweep, yet there was humour and warmth too, and an understanding of the varied characters of this work. The casual closing cadence earned a chuckle of delight from the audience.
Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s ravishing love song Widmung, composed the year he married Clara Wieck, and Anna did justice to this beauty of this music with an enchanting performance.
Two contrasting Mazurkas by Chopin followed. The first, in jaunty D major, had a foot-tapping, dancing metre, and Anna brought a distinctly folksy vibrancy to the piece with her characterful playing. The second, in F minor, and one of the last works Chopin composed, was poignant and sincere, with tasteful rubato and subtle dynamic shading.
Anna’s account of Chopin’s B-flat minor Scherzo, the most popular of his Scherzi, was highly dramatic, brave and heartfelt, the contrasting sections of the work highlighted with careful attention to detail, and some really gorgeous playing, particularly in the trio which opened with a gentle hymn-like motif. (This for me was the highlight of an excellent programme.) The same rich cantabile tone was evident in the Andante Spianato (which translates as “smooth”), while the Grande Polonaise Brillante was fearless, spirited and virtuosic. The audience’s appreciation was very evident at the end with enthusiastic applause, and several people went to congratulate Anna afterwards.
Anna’s teacher John Humphreys will feature in my ‘At the Piano…..’ series
The next NPLMS concert is on Monday 26th November. Pianist Petra Casen performs a Spanish programme with music by Granados, Albeniz and Mompou. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musseum, Bushy House, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3on the door.
The Cross-Eyed Pianist is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours every month to research, write, and maintain.
If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider making a donation to support the continuance of the site