Early Music America Fall 2013 - (Page 44)

ALL PHOTOS ©GRETJENHELENE.COM Young Performers Festival Bodes Well A Report by Jacob Street With help from the National Endowment for the Arts and generous individual donors, EMA’s Young Performers Festival was held at First Church in Boston the week of June 10-14 during the Boston Early Music Festival. An annual tradition since 2011, the event was administered by EMA executive director Ann Felter and board member Debra Nagy with the local assistance of Kathy Fay and Carla Chrisfield of BEMF. During the week, the Handel and Haydn Society hosted a reception for the Young Performers Festival participants, whose 10 performances, six presented with the help of an EMA College-level Ensemble Travel Grant, were a superb showcase of passionate, energetic, thoroughly musical playing, and an excellent preview of the kind of talent destined to be the future of the early music field. Leading the festivities was a combined group: the early music ensembles of Tufts and Brandeis University, with Jane Hershey and Sarah Mead as their respective directors. It was largely a late16th and early-17th century jamboree, with Byrd, Dowland, Tomkins, Castello, and Schütz represented, among others. There were dances, sonatas, canzonas, and spectacular divisions. Under strong leadership, particularly the virtuosic recorder stylings of Julia Bolsinger, the group’s solid grasp of early music fundamentals was impressive. This music can be really wild and fun, and with a bit more spirit of risk-taking and individual leadership within the ensemble, the strong, expressive fundamentals of this combined group could really shine. For any addicts of the Landini cadence, the Longy School of Music of Bard College offered a generous helping in its tripartite program. The viols of Jane Hershey’s Lassus Consort provided rich, warm support for the shapely vocal counterpoint in songs like “Paisible demaine.” In the 44 Fall 2013 Early Music America Dufay portion, coached by Laurie Monahan, the superb text painting of Laura Pincus, Elijah Hopkin, and James Williamson guided the phrasing of this difficult repertoire, even when the rhythmic displacement was at its most challenging. Ornamental figures were never overwhelming, while eye contact and body language revealed an ensemble whose members can truly communicate with one another. Bach’s cantata “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” as spiritedly conducted by Dana Maiben, seemed at times a bit quick for the thick polyphony, but a strong bass line and compelling solo performances kept the performance grounded. As for the Juilliard415 ensemble, it was, in their words, “continuo players gone wild.” The concert was largely a hodgepodge: there was Vivaldi, Dalla Casa, Lully, and Geminiani to start, as well as a pair of quite trite Bach arrangements as bookends. The four bass line devotees seemed at ease with each other in their witty banter during the concert and in their playing. Every member grasped the fundamental harmony at play and their own relative importance at each moment. Like every flavor of roll employed by the harpsichord and theorbo, the two cellists showed a wide range of color. Their decisions could be counterintuitive, but were performed so well and with such gusto that such inflections were immediately effective. How the University of North Texas shipped about 25 singers, a 30-piece orchestra, and directors Paul Leenhouts and Richard Sparks to Boston was never made clear, but their program of Czech Baroque music was all the more impressive for its enormous scope. From the vaguely Viennese Jan Tolar to the garishly Galant František Benda, the orchestra grasped dynamic shape, understood metrical and affectual contrast, and knew how to make sure those in the back row were awake. The formidable brass sec- tion and Leenhouts’ timpani helped immeasurably in the latter effort. The choir had a fine grasp of phrasing and a well-controlled, consistently pleasant sound, particularly in Zelenka’s massive Miserere. Though diction was excellent, hearing inner voices was complicated by the positioning of the tenors and altos behind the orchestra. Soprano soloist Angela Bou Kheir sported both purple hair and a fine, silvery coloratura that nicely maneuvered Zelenka’s usual harmonic trickery. Florida State University’s Early Music Ensemble, under Jeffery Kite-Powell, offered a beautiful program—their printed book was the nicest of the week—and their playing only surpassed it in quality. Titled “Music from Seventeenth-Century Germany,” yet proudly sporting excerpts by the enigmatic “Johannes Lüllie” (normally Lully), the program was not afraid to have a bit of fun with composers like Praetorius, Fischer, and Speer. With players and singers this good, it was easy to appreciate. The oboes and bassoons of the “B’roq’n Reed Consort” would instantly lock into their tunings, revealing just how closely they were listening to one another, and the six-piece sackbut choir employed a musically sensitive bass line and a remarkable palette of color. In their Schütz cantatas, particularly “Der Engel sprach,” the singers’ diction was superb, their phrasing intelligent and shapely. Even without the surprise doo-wop finale, made all the more hilarious by the performers’ utterly deadpan expressions, this concert would have pleased the audience with its totally rewarding musicianship. The semi-staged, fully-strange “La Pellegrina” was the selection for the eight singers and eight players of the University of Southern California-Thornton School of Music Baroque Sinfonia, under director Adam Knight Gilbert. These intermedi by various late-16th century Italian composers, described as “music for a magnificent Florentine wedding,” sounded exceedingly difficult, with elaborate Italianate figurations and relentless ornaments. The singers showed no sign of strain, though, often singing from memory and employing both Baroque gesture and a fair amount of acting. Though the costumes and alternatingly elegant or grotesque motions about the stage may not have been necessary for the music to succeed, they did reinforce the intense fealty to the text already apparent in the singers’ excellent diction and phrasing. Everyone was fully engaged; the playing was lovely, the vocal blend impeccable, the style fully in command. Top, the CWRU Collegium Musicum performs for a full house. Bottom, from left to right, students from Longy School of Music of Bard College, University of Southern California, and the University of North Texas. http://www.GRETJENHELENE.COM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Early Music America Fall 2013

Early Music America Fall 2013