Friday, June 23, 2017
Sanders Theater filled with an audience perhaps warming up for for the Super Bowl at the latest Boston Early Music Festival offering. Jordi Savall returned to Boston at the helm of a seven-member version of his ensemble, Hespèrion XXI, delivering assorted Renaissance and Baroque dance music stretching over two centuries with a characteristic mix of meticulous research and exemplary execution. Within an ensemble of five viols, Savall played the highest treble from the furthest left, with Imke David on tenor next to him. Xavier Diaz-Latorre was in the middle of the group with his theorbo and a double-strung guitar (looking and sounding like a cross between an Arabian oud and the acoustic instrument familiar from pop music). Two early music conductors sat on the right, Lorenz Duftschmid (director of Armonico Tribute Austria) with a cello-sized bass viol, and on the far right, Philippe Pierlot (leader of the Ricercar Consort) on bass viol and viola-sized alto viol. Behind the violists, David Mayoral played an array of percussion instruments, and Xavier Puertas stood with a double-bass sized violone. The program explored the ways that Venetian innovations in instrumental music echoed and rippled through Western Europe between 1500 and 1700. Savall broke down a daunting list of instrumental dance music into eight sets of three to five pieces. The musical journey began in Venice around 1500, exploring dance music with an anonymous Pavana and Galliarda, an anonymous Saltarello, and a Hungaresca by Giorgio Mainerio. The stately dances flowed one into another without a break, making it a little tricky to tell one piece from the next, but the rhythmic drive imparted by Mayoral on tambourine and drums showed their clear ties to dance music from court. The viol parts were homophonic, mostly moving in exact parallel, though the Hungaresca had more of a bagpipe-like drone underlying it. The mid-to-late 1500’s featured Ricercar forms by Hieronymus Parabosco and Andrea Gabrieli, and a Capriccio by Giovanni Battista Grillo. These works had more contrapuntal complexity and less driven rhythm, with textures that sound like the kind of vocal polyphony that I’m accustomed to from church music. The Gabrieli featured nifty duetting between Savall and David, then a triple time refrain, then a duet between Duftschmid and Pierrot. The Grillo had some rhythmically challenging segments (there were some abrupt changes of meter that were tricky enough to require Savall to beat time when he wasn’t bowing). A set of consort music from the British age of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I featured the Lacrimal Pavan and The King of Denmark Galliard of John Dowland, an In Nomine à 4 by Orlando Gibbons, and Ein Schottisch Tanz by William Blade. The first three works further developed the theme of instrumental music as arrangements of vocal music, with an ear-catching mix of speeds and modes. The Gibbons sounded the most like pure vocal music, down to its Latin motet title, and was delivered by the four violists, violone, and theorbo. The circle came back to the world of dance music with Blade’s Scottish Dance. Here, Diaz-Latorre laid down another bagpipe-like drone while Savall duetted with Pierlot on alto viol with sharp rhythmic flair. From Britain we moved to early 17th-century France, and the dances start getting arranged in a style like the Baroque suite, in this case with an anonymous Pavane de la petitte Guerre & Galliard, Luigi Rossi’s Fantasie “Les pleurs d’Orphée,” then an anonymous Sarabande “A l’impero d’amore” and Bourée d’Avignonez. The Rossi was particularly striking with its descending bass line, interspersed with cutting dissonant leaps back up the scale. The Bourée unspooled with a gradual, steady acceleration, ending the first half with a virtuosic flourish. After intermission, Hespèrion XXI returned to Venice at the start of the 17th century, with two Canzon compositions by Giuseppe Guami. Canzon 7 “La Cromatica” had the chromatic figure you might expect, exchanged first among the lower strings, then all the strings and theorbo. Canzon 4 “sopra la Battaglia” began with a martial drum roll, then a compound meter ascending figure shared among the strings, with some fiercely articulated duetting between Savall and Duftschmid. With the German composer Samuel Scheidt, we moved to another four-movement Baroque suite, with Paduan V, Courant Dolorsa IX, Allemande XVI, and Galliard Battaglia XXI. Here, for the first time, the pieces take on a clearer form, with an A section of material, the A section repeated with some variation, a B “answering” section, then a reprised A section; this form evolved into the Classical minuet and scherzo. This set also featured dense counterpoint, with particularly striking duets between treble viol Savall and alto viol Pierlot in the outer dances. The latter in particular featured Pierlot echoing everything Savall did, matching articulation, dynamics, and breathtaking virtuosity in a kind of Baroque throwdown. (I’ve always wondered if you could have an effective concert on Super Bowl Sunday in which the game is broadcast on a big screen while an early music ensemble matches Renaissance and Baroque battle music to it.) Two larger scale pieces from Venice in the mid 17th century followed. Biagio Marini’s Passacaglia à 4 features a recurring bass pattern going through ‘A-A-B-A’ format through some five or six variations and plenty of polyphony for the viols. Giovanni Legrenzi’s Sonata VI à 4 Viole da gamba was the first piece in sonata form. In this case, it was a relatively short work in “church sonata” form in which slow and fast movements alternate, in this case ending with a slow coda. If my report to this point seems mostly lacking in descriptions of individuals, that’s because for the most part, this event really emphasized the group’s collective technical polish. The strings blended beautifully, and passing-tone dissonances and open fifths rang out in the kind of way that only gut strings can. Each violist had some moment in the spotlight with Savall, of which each made the most, though their eyes’ tending to be fixed on the sheet may have diminished spontaneity. The final set of the evening came from Iberia from the end of the 17th century, and here, Hespèrion XXI came through with the kind of verve that marked the folía program that brought down the house at BEMF in 2015 (reviewed here ). In the Folía (Obra de 1er Tono, No. 10) by Pedro de San Lorenzo, pizzicatoing viols, and Diaz-Latorre’s guitar within a shorter rhythmic pattern and bass line brought it close to the world of Spanish and Latin American music. The anonymous Canarios and Antonio Valente’s Gallarda featured even simpler recurring bass line motifs which underpinned Savall’s improvisatory flights of fancy. I wonder how much of the music was improvised, though; shortly after Savall reached up beyond the highest playable note on his treble instrument, the group abruptly switched to a minor-key version of the recurring bass line and improvisation, then switched back to major again, as all grinned with some of the more wayward directions. Savall explored the extremes of his range, a variety of rhythmic figurations and dynamics, and at one point even seemed to recall Bach’s harmonization of “Jesu, meine Freude” in his instrumental perambulations. The Latin-inspired music brought the concert to a close, and the audience to its feet with raucous cheers. Jordi Savall (file photo) For an encore, the group offered a Satyrn Dance by William Brade, another spirited romp which hushed down to pianissimo; within pizzicato textures percussionist Mayoral sported an amusing Jew’s harp solo. In sum, the show paid tribute both to Savall’s omnivorous musical research and his ability to recruit a band that functions compellingly of one mind. Savall will stay in town one extra day; on Monday, February 6th from 7:10 to 9:10 p.m., he will take part in a roundtable discussion of his cross-cultural musical collaborations at the Barker Center on the Harvard College campus; details are here . He then rejoins Hespèrion XXI for a very busy tour, taking them to Jackson (Mississippi), St. Paul, Kansas City, New York, Lyon, Barcelona, Luxembourg, and Paris before the month is out. BEMF returns on February 24th with Stile Antico performing Renaissance sacred music at St. Paul’s in Cambridge The post Savall Takes Hespèrion XXI Venetian appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
With a production of Marin Marais's 1706 opera Alcione conducted by Jordi Savall, the historic house where Bizet's Carmen and Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande had their premieres is back with all its Belle Époque splendor renewed. Among the restorers' proudest achievements is recreating the auditorium's unique shade of red, somewhere between coral and brick. (slide show with text in French; Google Translate version here )
Okay, this will be a somewhat unusual media round-up, because I am dipping into the past for some of my comparisons. I saw Jordi Savall and a current incarnation of Hesperion XXI the other night at Zellerbach - a terrible venue for an unamplified Renaissance string ensemble, but, well, First Congregational wasn't available - and hoo boy was it dull and disappointing. Dull for reasons you can see in my review; disappointing because on record the Savall Cabal is anything but dull. And yet, Joshua Kosman's 1997 review reflects what I heard Friday night, so I can't chalk up the problems to the absence of Montserrat Figueras. Then again, there's Alex Ross's 2005 review from The New Yorker, which memorialies a concert that's what I would have expected based on Hesperion's recordings. Allan Ulrich, in 2001, is in line with Alex Ross. Maybe I should have just withdrawn from reviewing as soon as I saw that this year's Hesperion is a viola da gamba ensemble plus percussion plus theorbo/guitar. Yeah, make any old viola joke you'd like; I refrained in my review. Lisa Hirsch, SFCVAlex Ross, "The King of Spain," NYer, 2005Joshua Kosman, Chronicle, 1997Allan Ulrich, Chron/Ex, 2001Not sure who else reviewed last week's program but I'm happy to link to other reviews. As to the why of all of this: everyone in the group seemed a little bit in his or her own world, removed from each other and from the audience, including Savall. There were ensemble problems in a couple of numbers, where Savall himself seemed out of synch with the other instrumentalists; that was very strange. The Hesperion tour page shows you all of their concerts and the locations of those concerts. They're currently touring several different programs and playing 14 concerts (maybe 15, not sure who is doing what at "Conference") in different configurations in February. That's a lot of playing and a lot of travel.
>Eric Hoeprich (file photo) The London Haydn Quartet and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich came back to First Church, Cambridge (Congregational) on Friday night for the Boston Early Music Festival; their stunning local debut had been in 2014. This year’s program of the Haydn Op. 77, No. 2; Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 2; and Weber’s Clarinet Quintet had the same impressive blend and exquisite execution, but somehow the result felt more subdued, and didn’t jump off the stage the way it did three years back. The quartet arranged themselves on the concert stage with first violinist Catherine Manson, second violinist Michael Gurevich, violist John Crockatt, and cellist Jonathan Manson sitting from left to right. They opened with the final completed string quartet of their beloved Franz Joseph Haydn, the Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2. The ensemble’s phrasing was suave and tasteful, tuning was meticulously controlled, balances were superbly judged, and the four individual voices could be heard in crisp, clean counterpoint. Motifs moved between parts with an easy give and take, and fast passages were carried off with tight rhythmic unison. Catherine Manson dispatched Haydn’s many virtuosic passages for first violin with style and flair, and Jonathan Manson played a delightfully droll marching figure (in a duple time) which clashed with the triple time of the second movement Menuetto. The fourth movement Finale featured high spirited humor and sharp syncopations, impressive dynamic control, and a beautifully timed drawing out of the suspended movement right before the mad rush to the finish. Haydn’s last string quartet was followed by one of Beethoven’s earliest, the G major, Op. 18, No. 2. Even in this early example, Beethoven breaks up big musical phrases and scatters them among the various instrumental parts; with the London Haydn Quartet, you could follow the big phrase seamlessly. In the first movement’s development section, they beautifully negotiated the transition into a minor key harmonic wilderness. The recapitulation took advantage of Beethoven’s deceptive cadences by building up harmonic expectations, then deftly shifting in an unexpected direction. The second movement Adagio was played with noble serenity, followed by a suitably abrupt transition to the central, rough-humored Allegro, then back to the Adagio in a way that felt equally abrupt and inevitable. The third movement Scherzo had lovely dovetailing of musical motifs between the violinists Catherine Manson and Gurevich, and ringing, stunningly tuned chords in the middle-section Trio. The final Allegro molto was jaunty and brisk, with more brilliant soloist turns for Catherine Manson, and more of Beethoven’s harmonic detours, before ending with a unison explosion. The playing was all pleasant and agreeable. However, as I look over my review from 2014 [here ], I can’t help but feel that this performance lacked the exuberant energy that I heard three years ago. John Crockatt joined the quartet about a year ago, and the cellist was a substitute in 2014, so half the quartet was different on Friday night. Perhaps they are still working out their ensemble, or maybe they were tired from having played in Atlanta on Sunday, Philadelphia on Tuesday, and New York the night before. Their tour schedule shows them playing at least four different programs in two months, so maybe it’s a problem of familiarity and fluency. Perhaps First Church’s echoing acoustics washed out the group’s restrained, smaller, period instrument sound. But where my notes from 2014 are full of dipping and swaying and eye contact, on Friday I saw eyes glued to their scores, little glancing back and forth at each other, and the music was ably played, but didn’t have as much verve or sparkle. Clarinetist Eric Hoeprich, joining for Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet in B-flat Major, Op. 34, extended the quartet arch, sitting next to cellist Jonathan Manson and opposite first violinist Catherine Manson. Weber’s quintet comes across as a show off vehicle for the clarinetist’s technical skills. Hoeprich impressed with lightning-fast scale runs and rhythmically buoyant leaps, considering that his period instrument didn’t have the key system of modern clarinets that makes those fast runs easier. He soared to the top of the instrument’s register and dove to its depths with equal fluency, showed surprising dynamic range with some strikingly sudden shifts mid-phrase, and played long, legato passages with a lyrical line. He injected a good deal of energy into the evening’s proceedings, though at moments the strings seemed reduced to accompanists rather than collaborators. The London Haydn Quartet nevertheless provided some lovely moments, not least the sumptuous chords that opened the first movement; Jonathan Manson’s sonorous cello solo leading to the melancholy aria-like opening of the second movement; and the counterpoint in the finale. The work finishes with a quicksilver flourish, though it missed the playful sense of exchange of the Mozart Quintet from 2014. Hoeprich and the London Haydn Quartet continue their tour in Milwaukee on Saturday and Yale University (a repeat of this program) on Sunday, the 15th. The Boston Early Music Festival returns on February 5, with Jordi Savall at the helm of Hespèrion XXI. James C.S. Liu is a physician by day and a baritone and music enthusiast by night. He lives with his wife and daughters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The post Haydn Plus Hoeprich Again appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
Le Royaume oublié – La Tragédie Cathare Montserrat Figueras, Pascal Bertin, Marc Mauillon, Lluís Vilamajó, Furio Zanasi La Capella Reial de Catalunya Hesperion XXI Jordi Savall Alia Vox AVSA9873 A/C (2009) [flac, cue, log, scans of the book] This CD-set brings us back in time more than usual. It begins around the year 1000 and comes to a well known composer only at the end: Dufay. The dissident Christian movement of the Cathars, or Albigenses, is the subject of the four-hour program conceived by Jordi Savall, using mostly music of the troubadours of Occitania (south of France) where Catharism spread. The songs, while not Catharist, have been often composed at the courts which were trying to maintain their independence from the King of France in the same way the Cathars were trying to survive the opposition of the official Church. On hearing the beginning of the first CD, so various, you may be wondering what place that music belongs to. Well, you must think about the presence of the Arabs in Europe and their fruitful cultural exchange with the Jews. Would you believe this happened? Although the idea of providing the liner notes in seven languages is certainly part of the program, I had to choose: the full scans are given only for MIMIC official language, English. The following is an excerpt from the book. The principal sung text in the present recording were chosen primarly on the basis of their poetic and musical interest, as well as their relevance to the various historical events. In this context, we should single out the “first” troubadour, Guilhem de Peitieu, and the first trobairitz, the Countess of Dia, and of course the other wonderful troubadours such as Pèire Vidal, Raimon de Miraval, Guilhem Augier Novella, Pèire Cardenal, Guilhem Montanhagol and Ghilhem Figueira. In the case of the songs for which no music is extant, we have followed the practice of borrowing melodies by other composers such as Bernat de Ventadorn, Guiraut de Bornheilh, and other anonymous authors, thus emulating a very widespread practice in medieval poetry, a fact that sometimes is overlooked today. […] In our approach to the Cathar liturgy, all the texts are recited in Occitan, while the text in Latin are sung in a very ancient form of plain chant. In evoking the executions at he stake we have used a moving and dramatic combination of delicate improvisations on wind instruments of Eastern origin, such as the duduk and the kaval symbolising the souls of the victims, with the contrasting menace and mounting tension expressed by the presence of the drum rolls.
The shimmering of five viols filled First Church in Cambridge Friday night as the Boston Early Music Festival opened its 27th-concert season, hosting the English viol consort Fretwork. Soprano Suzie LeBlanc joined them in just over half the evening’s 19 selections, by four English composers of the late 16th through the late 17th centuries: William Byrd, John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons, and Henry Purcell. In pre-concert remarks, bass viol player Richard Boothby traced the 30-year history of Fretwork., Having long admired their recordings of music written for the instrument known alternatively as the viol or the viola da gamba, I had been eager to hear them. A sizable repertoire exists for combinations of two to seven such instruments, which differ from members of the violin family in the greater number of strings (six or seven) and the use of frets (hence the name “Fretwork”). In addition, all sizes, including the smallest or treble viol, are held upright in the lap or on the knees, rather than on the shoulder. Cultivated by wealthy amateurs in early modern England, the instrument was revived in the 20th century, when it again became a favorite of amateurs. Perhaps Boothby was right to complain that, before Fretwork’s founding, viol playing often functioned at a “low level,” with “painful” intonation and questionable coordination of ensemble, even though Fretwork had been preceded by fully professional groups, such as the Jay Consort of Viols and various ensembles directed by August Wenzinger (teacher of Jordi Savall). Still, it proved exciting when, during the 1980s and 1990s, Fretwork released recordings of Byrd, Purcell, and their contemporaries that rendered this music with expression and drama where it needed to be, yet always clear and thought-out—and with impeccable tuning and ensemble. Of the five players present, only Boothby who has been a member of the group since the beginning, is represented on one of those CDs. The players we heard achieved near technical close perfection, but the verve and clarity that marked earlier recordings was not always evident. Suzie LeBlanc, whom local audiences know from her appearances in BEMF-sponsored operas, meshed perfectly with the viols, which is to say that her singing shared their good points as well as some less admirable features. One problem arose from the almost uniformly serious, even solemn, character of the selections. The vocal numbers focused on death, mourning, and philosophical resignation. The instrumental selections sounded equally reserved—among them seven fantasias and related pieces of which all save one were in minor keys. All four composers wrote dances, but we heard only three by Dowland—again, all in minor keys and none of them really fast, let alone light-hearted. So dark and reserved a program might have been more successful had there been some variety in the approaches taken to these selections from four generations of composers. But singer and players seem to have striven for the opposite, settling for an almost uniformly quiet manner appropriate, nevertheless, for many of the selections. Of course viols are quiet instruments, or so we are told. But Fretwork’s own recordings demonstrate how much can be done with timing, articulation, and varied types of attack, and a singer is free to express the same. Byrd and Gibbons, whose music has much in common, occupied the first half, Dowland and Purcell the second. The first of four consort songs by Byrd, “My mind to me a kingdom is,” started auspiciously with its light rendering of a witty Elizabethan text. But here and in “Constant Penelope,” “Content is rich,” and the elegy “O that most rare breast” in memory of Philip Sidney, as well as in Gibbons’s famous “What is Our Life?,” LeBlanc evidently strove more to blend with the viols than to project details of the vocal lines. Even in the first-row seat provided to a reviewer, I could not always hear the words, especially at the ends of phrases, which tended to drop off. Occasionally this was expressive, as in the elegy. But even there the absence of clear accents left inaudible Byrd’s rhythmic nuances, which reflect precisely those of the poem. Inasmuch as the notes described the singer as “replacing” Emma Kirkby in the Consorte of Musick, it is not unfair to compare LeBlanc’s interpretations with Kirkby’s, who in her recording of Byrd’s consort songs took a similarly minimalist approach to expression. Yet Kirkby nevertheless introduced subtle emphases on certain words and found ways to vary the intensity from stanza to stanza. Here this had to be done by having the viols pluck the accompaniment for one stanza of “My mind.” The pieces for instruments alone likewise suffered from indistinct articulation. From my listening point I could not hear the tune at all in Byrd’s variations on “Browning.” That was problematical in this early work, also known as “The Leaves Be Green.” It dates from an early period, when the composer was obsessed with virtuoso counterpoint involving conflicting accents and meters—almost like the 20th-century composer Elliott Carter, who acknowledged Byrd as a model. Without the audible clarity of the underlying tune, this rendition seemed shapeless if pretty by comparison to Fretwork’s 1995 recording. The magnificent five-part settings of “In nomine” by Gibbons and Byrd were similarly hobbled, the built-in acceleration in each piece a pale reflection of what it could be. (The Byrd selection, incompletely identified in the notes, was the fifth of the five-part In nomines.) I was curious to see whether my impressions were due to the acoustic of the hall at my assigned seat. So for the second half I moved to the balcony at the back of the church. There I was pleasantly surprised to hear singer and players at least as clearly as in the front row. But even the stunning modulations in Dowland’s “Lachrimae tristes”—the fourth of the seven “Lachrimae” (tears) pavans—received no distinctive response from the players. It might have seemed a good idea to use this example to introduce Dowland’s famous song “In darkness let me dwell.” But the latter was, as Boothby admitted, “turned into a consort song.” It therefore sounded just like the preceding long, slow piece in the same key. Moreover, distributing the lines of the original lute accompaniment among four viols makes explicit what the composer only meant to suggest. It also locks the singer into a somewhat stricter rhythm than otherwise. The very slow tempo taken for both numbers may seem appropriate, and the performers were impressive in maintaining a beautiful composure throughout; playing and especially singing in this manner is taxing and difficult. But I missed hearing the second of the song’s two stanzas, which was omitted. And I wonder whether the references to “hellish jarring sounds” and other poetic images could not be interpreted more forcefully at a slightly less funereal tempo. Some measure of liveliness returned in two galliards by Dowland, known as Essex’s and Noel’s—the latter in its little-known vocal version, “Shall I strive.” But the high point came in the concluding set with four of Purcell’s fantasias in four parts. These astonishing, at times almost expressionistic, works—from a set of 18 or 19 pieces for as many as seven viols—received more nuanced execution than others we heard. Most touching was perhaps no. 6 in F major, where perfectly timed pauses brought out the shattering transition to the minor mode at the beginning of the slow middle section. Also heard were nos. 12, 7, and 8, in that order, the second of these colored by Fretwork’s unflinching execution of the many cross-relations (a type of dissonance favored by English composers). What might have been a disaster, a broken string on one of the bass viols, occurred in a “timely” fashion, as Boothby observed wryly, at the very end of no. 12. This occasioned a little re-ordering of the remaining numbers, which the performers took in stride. Stock shot of Fretwork with Richard Boothby top and center. To these ears, the arrangements of all three of the Purcell songs were even less convincing than the Dowland one. “Music for a while,” “O solitude,” and “The Evening Hymn” are all “grounds”: compositions built over short repeating bass lines. The arrangements were played perfectly well, but at times they left the bass line inaudible, while distracting attention away from the voice and toward Boothby’s added counterpoint for the treble viol. Seventeenth-century viol consorts may occasionally have substituted for lute or harpsichord in accompanying such songs. But, juxtaposed against Purcell’s own striking harmony in the fantasias, these arrangements had a faux quality. For better or worse, these selections too were changed, anachronistically, into consort songs and performed with the same still beauty as the remaining ones. BEMF most considerately printed the complete texts of the vocal selections—including stanzas that were not in fact sung (in the strophic songs by Byrd and Dowland). On the other hand, I wonder whether we really needed three pages about the performers when little more than a page focused on the music. Boothby chose not to use his pre-concert talk to “expand on” his rather minimal essay, rather providing a talky history of the group, including the now-unavoidable call for donations. Perhaps few in the rather sparse audience needed it, but surely some would have found it helpful to be reminded that an “In nomine” was based on a melody from a mass by John Taverner, and that composers competed in writing virtuoso settings of that melody; or that Purcell wrote three of the program’s four fantasias within the space of eight days, the fourth following a few weeks later during the summer of 1680. Particularly when a program as is abstract as this one, it can be alienating for a less experienced listener to be confronted by puzzling titles (and more-puzzling music) without explanation. Would it hurt audience retention to insist on more informative but perhaps optional talking before the concert, especially if there is no space for proper notes in the handout? David Schulenberg’s The Music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was published in 2014 by the University of Rochester Press . He has also written books on the music of W. F. Bach and the keyboard music of J. S. Bach, as well as the textbook Music of the Baroque. A performer on harpsichord, clavichord, and fortepiano, he teaches at Wagner College and at the Juilliard School in New York City. His website is here . The post Soprano and Viols Shimmer for BEMF appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .