Handel, Bach, Scarlatti at Milton Court

The Times by Geoff Brown, 30 September 2014

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'I wasn’t in Milton Court at all; I was in heaven.'

The Monteverdi Choir may be 50 years old this year, but their current members scarcely look older than 25. They certainly sang like young tearaways in this celebratory concert, where their joyful sounds threatened to shake down Milton Court’s fixtures and fittings.

In Handel’s psalm setting Dixit Dominus, a youthful volcano in itself, I could have cut my fingers on their sharp attack. Split into ten divisions, the 30-strong choir’s full-throated vigour created more wonders in Domenico Scarlatti’s remarkable Stabat Mater. This was a night of incandescent music-making, made available the next day as a unique digital download (monteverdi.org.uk/shop).

John Eliot Gardiner, the choir’s founder and conductor, is a little more than 25, but you would never guess his exact age from his fiery passion and love of driving rhythms. Even before a note was sung,Dixit Dominus got us shaking in our boots with the writhing introduction from the English Baroque Soloists’ strings. Once the voices started, there was no place to take cover. Phil Spector in his heyday couldn’t have topped the wall of sound as the choir declaimedJuravit Dominus. Gentler beauties appeared too, at their most tender as the sopranos Emma Walshe and Esther Brazil liltingly intertwined in the penultimate duet.

Brazil had her own spotlight in the breast-beating Bach cantata Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (“My heart is bathed in blood”). Ideally, I’d have applied sandpaper to some of her tone’s sharp edge, though in every phrase and trill she remained generously expressive. However, the concert’s prize for emotional splendour still went to Scarlatti’sStabat Mater, lightly accompanied by a string continuo. As the ten-part polyphony soared above us, the temperature fervent, harmonies almost quaking with tears, I wasn’t in Milton Court at all; I was in heaven.

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