The fourth concert in this “Choral at Cadogan” series, and the Belgian ensemble, Vox Luminis, came to stormy London. Relatively unknown in the UK (their first concert here was only September 2013) they chose a programme of Italian works to fit thematically with the core piece of their performance, Scarlatti’s ‘Stabat Mater.’ The group presented a programme of stylistically varied Renaissance and Baroque composers following the theme of veneration of the Virgin Mary and the loss of her son Jesus.
Beginning by cleverly bringing the whole vocal group onstage but then opening with a soprano solo on the balcony, the clear pure sound of this 13th century lamentation echoed across a now silent and expectant hall. Sung in the group’s native French it throbbed with the emotion and loss of the Virgin Mary at the cross. Immediately following it came Lotti in the well-known ‘Crucifixus a 8’ from his Credo in F. Complex polyphony suited exactly the tonally accurate and unfussy vocal style of Vox Luminis, and the continuo part melded seamlessly with the excellent bass section to bring a rich, full gravitas to the performance.
Two contrasting pieces were next heard, placing the innovative Renaissance music of Monteverdi against the more operatic Baroque of Scarlatti’s last composition. Quality continued to exude from the choir with warm and expressive vocal lines producing a thoughtful and joyous ‘Adoramus ti Christe’. The denser ‘Salve Regina’ maintained the sincere tone but brought in organ, theorbo, harp and viola de gamba for a still intimate, but fuller tone. Special mention must be made of Barnabás Hegyi, singing alto, for his just extraordinary vocal tone and timbre; his Baroque operatic background stood him in good stead here.
Rounding off the first half was the premier of a piece by the Baroque composer Ciaia whose orchestration was fascinating, almost creating a cinematic effect with his way of splitting down to just soprano, harp and theorbo for the section of the Virgin’s most despairing point. Zsuzsi Tóth singing the part of the Virgin Mary did a truly masterful job of portraying the abject misery and sorrow after the crucifixion. Even for those not religious, here was a mother’s heartrending loss of her son for all to feel.
After the interval only the ‘Stabat Mater’ remained; the epicentre of this programme and a reflection of the 10 years this group has been together, this being the first piece they ever performed. Perhaps fittingly this was truly their piéce de resistance of the night with the male vocals particularly splendid and the passionate ‘argument’ of the middle stanzas earnestly and intensely delivered.
No surprise then that the end should see cheers and wolf whistles from the audience and a very charming acknowledgement from the group’s director, Lionel Meunier, in response. Completing the excellent performances of the evening with another piece of Monteverdi, Lionel told us that this was their first ever encore at a concert. One doubts it will be the last.