LIVE REVIEW: Turton Consort – Monteverdi: Madrigals book IV, St Ann’s Church Manchester, 7th April

'I can't distinguish my countertenor from my tenor, but it didn't matter, put together they sounded amazing. If there is a heaven, that's what it sounds like'

The Installation at St Ann’s Church, Manchester
The Installation at St Ann’s Church, Manchester

When my friend messaged me to ask if I wanted to go to the ‘Turton Consort Monteverdi: Madrigals book IV’ in St Ann’s Church, Manchester, to be honest I didn’t have a clue what it’d be like, but having been to a number of classical concerts with him now, I trust his choice in these matters. I felt sure at the very least, it’d be beautiful music and as it was in the calm surroundings of a church, it was just what I was after for that evening.

The Turton Consort is made up of five professional singers: Leonie Maxwell – Soprano, Aimee Presswood – Soprano, Joseph Judge – Countertenor/Director, Alex Banfield – Tenor and Robert Brooks – Bass.

In all honesty I can’t distinguish my countertenor from my tenor, but it didn’t matter, put together they sounded amazing. If there is a heaven, that’s what it sounds like. The soprano voices in particular were mind blowing; pure perfection to me, breaking through the audience pre-concert mumbling like a ray of light through the stained glass windows.

The music was divided into what are called madrigals (my new favourite word) which are essentially paragraphs of verse. It was all sung in Italian, but there was an English translation of each verse (madrigal). I was glad of this in this instance (I don’t feel it always matters if you don’t understand the language to appreciate the music) because the words were stunning. It was the finest of poetry. I’ve never really ‘got’ poetry, but this was gripping stuff. After the first couple of madrigals, I turned to my friend and whispered an appreciative, ‘bloody hell!’ …..perhaps not the most appropriate response in a church, but words failed me – I was in awe at the sound and the lyrics. Here is just one madrigal to whet your appetite:

Eyes, bright and clear
You set me on fire but my heart feels
Pleasure in the fire, not pain.
Sweet and dear words,
You pierce me but my breast feels
Not pain in the wound but delight.
Oh miracle of love:
A soul that is all fire and blood,
Is consumed without pain, dies without languishing.

The blurb about the evening stated, ‘Yearning for the sensual pleasures and devices of love, sorrow of separation, pain of heartbreak, unadulterated lust – raw human emotion is felt in the music of this set of madrigals.’ There was no false advertising here, the concert did what it said on the tin!

Visually the concert was stunning too. There is a cascading installation currently on display in the church which added to the serene atmosphere; connected discs of paper float down from the ceiling shimmering and changing as the light alters and streams through the stained glass windows. There was also somewhat of the theatre about the concert too. It started with singers out of sight on the balcony for the first madrigal, moving to the aisle for the second, where they stood in the round, engaging with the music and each other, looking left and right to come in together as there was no conductor.

The final madrigals were sung from the front of the church bringing a finale so natural and perfect that felt like a boat gently pulling into shore. The only element missing for me (and this is a minor criticism) was candle-light. It would’ve made the magical feel truly heavenly.

The after show party:

Yep, there was one! It isn’t only pop music folk who know how to party! After the concert we decamped to the pub and I got the privilege to sit and chat with the musicians. Again, I feel this is quite a Mancunian experience – the opportunity to get up close and personal with the group and whilst their voices are truly heavenly and I did wonder if the girls might actually be angels, they were a very down-to- earth, friendly bunch.

The chat was about how to attract more people to this type of music and the fact that the music I had just heard was mainly about sex, for example, death being a metaphor for the petit mort – an orgasm. I was left wondering if everyone gathered in the church to listen to this exquisite music realised this and whether more advertising about the true nature of the lyrics might attract a wider audience?! It didn’t feel quite right to take photos in the church – it felt too much of an interruption, so here’s one of them in the pub.

Turton Consort
Turton Consort

I still can’t distinguish my Beethoven from my Bach, but it doesn’t matter, music is music and if it gets you that’s what counts, so next time you see a poster outside a church advertising some unpronounceable composer or other, give it a try as you could be very pleasantly surprised.

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Born in London, but bred in Manchester, music is something I can't do without. I like to think I'm musically open minded enough to enjoy a range of styles (only steering clear of heavy metal and opera so far!). I particularly enjoy acoustic, lyrically rich folky music, but also love really good dance and piano house music, and tons of other stuff too numerous to mention, but I'd struggle if someone asked me for my top ten of all time! My greatest musical love when growing up ( and still today) was the music of The Smiths - Morrissey's poetic genius with Marr's outstanding guitar playing. Going to gigs is what I like to do. I'm aversive to stadium and larger gig venues ( with exception of The Albert Hall and The Ritz) though, preferring the smaller intimate venues that Manchester has to offer such as The Soup Kitchen, The Castle and Matt & Phreds to name but three.