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Glory Be to Vivaldi's Gloria Concert

Hannah Shiblaq reviews the Madrigal Choir and Baroque Ensemble's transcendental collaboration.

On 24 February, the University’s Madrigal Group and Baroque Ensemble came together for the first time to perform Vivaldi's Gloria. For a mere £6 entrance fee, you could experience this two-part concert, set in the romantic ambiance of the fifteenth-century Holy Trinity Church on South Street.

The concert was advertised as a particularly special event, and for good reason, too. These two exclusively student-run organisations worked together to perform one of the most ambitious compositions by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.

The Madrigal Group, a small choral ensemble of sixteen singers (obviously divided into sopranos, altos, tenors, and bass), was founded in 1946 and has been performing ever since. So far this academic year, they have had an incredibly action-packed run. They usually perform in at least five major University events, as well as local events in town. The group recently travelled to Berlin, where they performed in the Berlin Cathedral, and they are planning to bring back last year’s hosted events, MadGroup Ball and Ceilidh.

Watching them was enough to make any audience member wish that they could sing with the same level of angelism as the actual group members themselves. Though, luckily, auditions open up at the start of every academic year, usually during Freshers’ Week. Anyone is welcome to take a crack at it, whether they’ve been singing for years or are just getting started.

On the other hand, the Baroque Ensemble, whilst a newer organisation, has also had a successful year thus far. Founded in 2021 by Andrew Stirling, the Assistant Director for the Vivaldi Gloria concert, it began as “a group of friends who have a strong passion for Baroque music”, as stated on the concert programme. It consists of violins, violas, cello, oboe, double bass, harpsichord, and trumpet.

The concert consisted of two parts, something strategically chosen by the Madrigal Group’s Music Director, Will Thorne.

“I wanted to split the concert between secular and sacred repertoire”, said Thorne. “The first section of the concert will consist of a selection of madrigals and folk songs, which is at the heart of what Madrigal Group performs”.

The group began by performing compositions from John Vennet, Thomas Morley, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Farmer, and Micheal Chamberlain. One of them, adding to Thorne’s intended folksy, secular theme, was a musical rendition of Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. The final song, one that Thorne insisted was of great sentimental value to the group, was Scottish classic ‘Loch Lomond’, which romantically rhapsodises two lovers meeting on the banks of that very lake.

Following a brief intermission, the Baroque Ensemble came out to accompany the Madrigal Group for the more apropos religious sequence and the titular composition of the event: Vivaldi’s Gloria. The composition consisted of eleven parts, all sung in Latin. Some included both vocal and instrumental solos from different group members. Finally, the performance concluded with Claudio Monteverdi’s ‘Beatus Vir’.

The groups blended together seamlessly, curating an ear-pleasing chorus of unique voices and instrumental timbre. This, combined with the unique venue, allowed the sounds to ricochet off of the ancient walls and throughout the hypnotised audience. Evidently, this mastery is the result of dedicated group members and gruelling practice hours.

For Emily Kemp, the Vice President of the Madrigals Group, this is her second year participating as a singer. She urged that the group worked incredibly hard to prepare for the challenging selection of music for the concert.

“We chose this repertoire simply because we all love to make music together”, said Kemp. “Both groups pride themselves on a high standard of music-making, so it is a real joy to unite the two with this collaboration”.

“It has certainly been a lot of preparation”, said Thorne, “but it is a project that has been completely borne by our collective passion for amazing music, and I cannot wait for everyone to hear what all the hard-work has led to”.

Photo: Hannah Shiblaq

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