The 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's Vespers has led to a blizzard of different performances, as every choir strives to zap the world with its own definitive version. One of the most interesting can be heard on the inaugural CD of a label called Novum, which represents a decision by the choir of New College, Oxford, to wrest control – plus any profits which may be going – from the record companies that have hitherto profited from its prize-winning exploits. Assisted by a period-instrument group called Charivari Agréable, the young boys who make up this choir produce a wonderfully fresh sound: the rigorous daily training they receive from the age of eight puts them in the forefront of a tradition going back centuries, whose survival into this irreligious age is a miracle in itself.
Irreligious? Their director Professor Edward Higginbottom demurs: in his view, the new golden age in which choirs like his now find themselves is due in part to the enthusiasm of the public. "In past generations," he says, "people went to church because they thought they should, but now they go because they want to – for great music well sung, in a building which lets it bloom, and because of their need for some kind of spirituality, which this music answers." On October 6, at St John's, Smith Square, Londoners can savour this choir's excellence.