On this, Ars Atlantica’s second volume of songs from the Guerra Manuscript, one hears a cornucopia of early baroque signatures refracted through the prism of Iberian culture and legendary tales. The document, named after the scribe José Miguel Guerra, who is credited with transcribing it, contains a number of songs composed during the second half of the Seventeenth century; some anonymous, others attributed to Juan Hidalgo (1614-1685), harpist for the Spanish Royal Chapel and theatre composer.
The particular song genre preserved in the Guerra Manuscript is known as tonos humanos, a Spanish response to Italian solo madrigals and English consort songs that prizes syllabic text setting and propulsive rhythmic articulations. Juan Sancho’s warm robust tenor is ably countered by the nimble delivery of Ars Atlantica under the direction of Manuel Vilas. Once those who think there’s little buried treasure left to discover amid early music manuscripts hear this, they will likely change their tune.
What a choral tag team! New York Polyphony joins forces with Anonymous 4 in a perfect performance of Praetorius (video below).
One of the best choral CDs of 2012: EndBeginning, a release by New York Polyphony. With a program preponderantly built from sixteenth century polyphonic treasures – alongside a work from the 14th century by Machaut and one by living composer Jackson Hill – the CD charts a moving trajectory from grief to hope to transcendence. All of the works are sumptuously sung. It is particularly fortunate the ensemble has turned their attentions to Crecquillon and Brumel, who deserve wider currency. One is glad also for the inclusion of the mid-Renaissance gem “Absalon Fili Mi,” which again is performed movingly. A little musicological caveat: many scholars now attribute the piece to Pierre de la Rue, not Josquin, as the CD’s booklet avers.
Tonight I’m covering the Tallis Scholars, who are performing “Masterpieces for Double Choir” at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin as part of Miller Theatre’s early music series. Selections include works by Lassus, Vivanco, Arvo Pärt (I’m interested to hear the Tallis Scholars sing this composer’s work!), and Praetorius. Below here a sample of their rendition of the latter’s “In Dulci Jubilo.”
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Church of St. Mary the Virgin (145 W. 46th Street)
Passion and Resurrection
Harmonia Mundi CD
November might seem like an unusual time to release a CD titled Passion and Resurrection. But Stile Antico’s latest recording for Harmonia Mundi is a welcome addition to their catalogue regardless of any dissonance with the liturgical calendar.
With one notable exception, the disc presents a mixed program of Continental and English Renaissance music. There is one 21st century piece – a setting of “Woefully Arrayed” by English composer John McCabe (b. 1939). Commissioned for Stile Antico, this first recording of McCabe’s piece is nearly as scintillating as the performance I heard of it in New York in 2011. That’s saying something, as I then found the work a gripping, even wrenching, depiction of Christ’s agony. Reiterated pileups of dissonant polychords create a visceral imitation of hammer blows, while sinuous lines offset the more rhythmically charged passages with a plaintive keening. It’s instructive to hear another setting of the poem by William Cornysh (1465-1523), in which paired imitations and melismas provide an entirely different, yet in its own way quite moving, musical outpouring of grief.
There are lively selections on the CD as well. Particularly fine is Stile Antico’s rousing renditions of Orlando Gibbons’s Hosanna to the Son of David and William Byrd’sIn Resurrectione Tua. And one would be remiss not to mention the delicacy of Stile Antico’s version of O Crux Ave by Christobal de Morales as well as thesumptuous sound that the singers display in Thomas Tallis’sO Sacrum Convivium and Jean Lheritier’sSurrexit Pastor Bonus. What about the goose bump inducing purity of their intonation on Dum Transisset by John Taverner? This is one of those few recordings that makes it exceedingly difficult to zero in on the standout moments. While one does wonder if their use of ”hairpins” as a means of dynamic contrast is always stylistically correct – it seems perhaps a bit overdone on Orlando de Lassus’sDe Monte Oliveti, this is a little quibble; one is certainly glad to hear the thoughtfulness and desire to make meaningful contrasts that are evidently part of their interpretative process. Even in the Advent and Christmas season, there’s room for listening to Passion and Resurrection.
Arianna Savall and Petter Udland Johansen
ECM New Series 2227 CD/Digi
Swiss soprano and harpist Arianna Savall pairs with Norwegian folksinger, Hardanger fiddle player, and mandolinist Petter Udland Johansen on Hirundo Maris (Latin for “Sea Swallow”), a recording on ECM’s New Series. They are joined by Sveinung Lilleheier (guitar, Dobro, backing vocals), Miquel Àngel Cordero (double-bass, backing vocals), and David Mayoral (percussion, backing vocals) in an outing that combines folk material from multiple traditions (from both Northern and Southern Europe), early music instruments and performance practices, and improvised original pieces.
This is one of the recordings that we keep playing: at home, in the car on the way to work; I’ve even inserted it into a classroom lecture. Like many ECM releases, the overall ambiance is lovely: spacious yet detailed with each voice and instrument able to be pinpointed in the sound field with crystalline clarity.
The material is heavily weighted towards ballads, including particularly lovely versions of ”The Water is Wide” and the Catalan traditional song “El Mestre:” a showcase for Savall’s lustrous soprano. But the program is punctuated by livelier selections too; the Sephardic song “Ya salio de la mar” and the Norwegian folksong “Ormen lange,” a terrifically syncopated tour de force for both Johansen and Mayoral. This is certain to be on many “best of” lists of recordings at the end of the year: ours included.
It’s tempting, yet often misleading, to create direct parallels between life and art. The music of Carlo Gesualdo (1561-1613), effusively expressive and, at times, wildly chromatic to many 21st century listeners, has likely become inextricably linked to the scandalous facets of his biography. But the musical traits which made Gesualdo’s madrigals so memorable needn’t be treated as isolated phenomena perpetrated by an unbalanced individual. Gesualdo was not the only composer in his circle who experimented with what are now considered unusual musical practices: unprepared modulations, colorfully chromatic melodic embellishments, and audacious text-painting devices. He’s just the Neopolitan madrigalist who did so most memorably.
For this ECM recording of Gesualdo’s fifth book of madrigals, Hilliard Ensemble members countertenor David James, tenor Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor Steven Harrold, and bass Gordon Jones join forces with guest artists soprano Monika Mauch and countertenor David Gould: both singers who have appeared with the ensemble, in concert and on record, in the past. Their intonation, throughout the wending and widely diverging chromatic pathways found in these pieces, is flawless. In addition, one senses a forward momentum and particularization of articulation that impels us to savor as well the considerably intricate rhythmic dimensions of this music.
Another joy in hearing this recording is noting that, despite attention to these various details, the Hilliard Ensemble never exaggerates them. With such rich and evocative repertoire at their disposal, all too frequently, one hears vocal groups overplay their hand. Balancing passion with restraint is too rarely found in Gesualdo recordings; negotiating the correct calculus for this makes the Hilliard Ensemble’s rendition a benchmark one. Recommended.
with Agnès Vesterman, cello & Sylvain Lemêtre, percussion
ECM Records CD 2157
Dance music in multiple forms, from the saltarello, a Venetian dance dating back to the Fourteenth century, to Breton and Celtic folk music, as well as transcriptions of medieval era compositions, Renaissance era consort music, and contemporary fare, are featured on Saltarello, violist Garth Knox’s latest ECM CD. Among the early music slections, Particularly impressive is a Vivaldi concerto, performed in a duo arrangement for viola d’amore and cello. Its interpreters, Knox and Agnès Vesterman, take this continuo less opportunity to accentuate a supple contrapuntal interplay between soloist and bass line. Equally lovely is a piece that combines music by Hildegard and Machaut in a kind of medieval style mash-up. Also stirring is this duo’s version of John Dowland’s most famous piece, Lachrimae, perhaps known best in its incarnation as the song “Flow My Tears.”
Knox, who is a past member of both Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Arditti String Quartet, also performs the disc’s newer material with consummate musicality: he also has the bedeviling habit of making virtuosic writing sound far too easy to play (his poor violist colleagues!). Knox’s own composition, “Fuga Libre,” combines jazz rhythms and neo-baroque counterpoint with ever more complicated harmonic tension points and several instances in which Knox demonstrates various extended playing techniques. Meanwhile, Kaaija Saariaho’s Vent Nocturne, an eerily evocative and tremendously challenging piece for viola and electronics, is given a haunting, sonically sumptuous rendering.
Tomorrow night, Knox celebrates the release of the CD at LPR (details below). Early music, new pieces by and for Knox, and lovely comestibles on menu and on tap? Sounds like my evening’s planned!
Tuesday May 22nd – Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:30
NEW YORK – Miller Theatre’s Early Music series, which regularly presents concerts at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in midtown Manhattan, concluded its season with a concert by the English vocal ensemble Stile Antico. It was the group’s last concert of their Spring American tour, and featured a program that was described from the stage as a “whistle stop tour through the music of the Renaissance.” Indeed, in a single evening the group covered a wide range of repertoire that encompassed the entire chronology of Renaissance polyphony. The program included a number of works that choral music aficionados would consider its chestnuts. These were complemented by less famous, yet still musical engaging, pieces and several works by lesser known composers who seem undeservedly underrepresented on concert programs and recordings.
Two of the latter were Spanish composers Rodrigo de Ceballos and Sebastian de Vivanco, whose Hortus Conclusus and Veni, dilecte mi, stood toe to toe with fellow countryman Tomas Luis de Victoria, despite his representation on the program being the superlative – and superlatively sung – O Magnum Mysterium. Two other Continental standouts were Nicolas Gombert’sMagnificat primi toni and Clemens non Papa’s Egos flos campi. The latter was particularly sumptuous (below, I’ve included a YouTube video of the group performing it in 2008).
Stile Antico excels in their presentation of English Renaissance repertoire, which was abundantly present on the program. Often, composers were represented by two contrasting works, demonstrating their responses to different texts and, during the Tudor era, their differing responses to Catholic and Anglican liturgical settings. Thus, William Byrd’s affirmative Laetentur coeli contrasted with Vigilate, a work that would seem to be a covert nod towards the suffering and tribulations of recusant Catholics during the Elizabethan era. Likewise, Thomas Tallis’O Sacrum Convivium (another gorgeously blended performance) was later contrasted with Why Fum’th in Fight, one of Eight Tunes from Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (probably best known for its reincarnation in Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis - or, as some of my less astute students recently said, “The theme from Master and Commander). John Sheppard was represented by a single work, but his Lord’s Prayer (with an earlier version of the wording that was quite moving) was another work performed with particular clarity and beauty of tone.
Commissioned for the ensemble, John McCabe’sWoefully Arrayed, a visceral and rhythmically charged Passion motet, was the program’s sole representation of non-Renaissance music, but it indicated theatStile Antico is more than up to the task of assaying challenging and chromatic repertoire. Generally speaking, here and elsewhere, the group’s intonation and diction were superlative. Their approach is faithful to current performance practice research, while embodying an immediacy and effulgent expressivity that is quite stirring. For example, the crisp consonants and tightly interwoven phrases they lent to Byrd’s Vigilate, when compared to the sensuous luxuriance of Stile Antico’s performance of Lassus’ Veni, dilecte mi demonstrated a broad range of approaches that were both imaginative and stylistically faithful. One area in which the ensemble might endeavor to improve is their diction in works with many divisi: some of the texts were difficult to decipher in their performances of Thomas Tomkins’ O Praise the Lord and the concert’s closer Tota pulchra es by Hieronymus Praetorius. But to dwell overlong on these minor infelicities would be hairsplitting: Stile Antico provided a wonderful evening of rousing singing.
They even shared an encore by Thomas Campion – a teaser from their latest CD on Harmonia Mundi,Tune thy Musicke to thy Hart. A collaboration with early music consort Fretwork, the disc is a collection of Tudor and Jacobean music for private devotion. This less formal, and more intimate, repertoire is approached by the groups with refinement, delicacy, and characteristic musicality. Both the CD, and Stile Antico’s next visit to a venue in your area, are wholeheartedly recommended.
Offbeat collaborations have become a hallmark programming preference for Merkin Hall’s Ecstatic Music festival. But the combination of a cappella group Anonymous Four with indie rock songwriter Josh Darnielle of the Mountain Goats and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Owen Pallett is a standout even in this season’s diverse set of offerings.
Josh Darnielle (photo: Jeremy Langet)
Our friends at WQXR were kind enough to share the concert on Q2: it’s streamable via the embedded player below.
Transcendental Youth (Darnielle)
Lection: Apocalypse 21:1-5
The Lord’s Prayer (John Tavener)
Motet: Salve virgo regio/Ave goriosa mater/[DOMINO]
Motet: Gaude virgo nobilis/Verbum caro factum/ET VERITATE
Benedicamus domino: Belial vocatur
Conductus: Nicholai presulis
Song: Novus Annus Adiit
Trope: Gratulantes celebremus festum
The Scientist (Richard Einhorn)
Religious Ballad: Wayfaring Stranger
Last fall, I was wowed by the The Crossing,a professional chamber choir directed by Donald Nally that is based in Philadelphia. They took part in Miller Theatre’spresentation of James Dillon’sNine Rivers, a three-evening work that is the Scottish composer’s magnum opus (read my Musical Americareview here). Armed only with tuning forks (and, of course, excellent preparation by Nally), they performed this superbly difficult piece in the ‘new complexity’ style with aplomb; on a densely populated stage to boot (I don’t think I’ve seen fifty people onstage at the same time at modest-sized Miller before!).
On Monday January 9, Crossing returns to NYC to perform with Renaissance band Piffaro in Kile Smith’sVespers, a work that blends early and contemporary musical styles. Smith’s setting of Lutheran liturgical texts is crosscut with elements referencing postmodern Man’s complicated relationship with God, ritual, doubt, and organized religion. Throughout the holidays, I’ve cheated a bit and spun some Epiphany tunes early, enjoying the Navona recording of the work. I’m eager to hear it live on Monday evening.