in: Reviews

November 9, 2009

Camerata, Harvard Choir Honor Calvin with Symphony of Psalms

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Anne Azema showed her skills in a concert at Memorial Church on Sunday, November 8, with singers and musicians of the Boston Camerata and the Choral Fellows of Harvard University Choir.

The concert started with a Hebrew Cantilation (Psalm 25) performed by voice and harp, followed by Ms. Azema singing from the audience. Gradually voices and instruments were added until the whole audience participated in Dowland’s setting of Psalm 100, a glorious hymn of praise.

“Lobet den Herrn” (Psalm 130) by Schutz, with the marriage of vernacular text, melody and harmony, uplifts the soul – even of this hardened non-believer. [Click title for full review.]

The Psalms of David have never ceased to capture the hearts of listeners and singers of all nations. Just how powerful they can be was demonstrated at Memorial Church on Sunday, November 8, by the singers and musicians of the Boston Camerata in combination with the Choral Fellows of Harvard University Choir, directed by Edward E. Jones.

The concert marked the beginning of the second season of the Camerata under the direction of Anne Azema, who showed her skills as an arranger of program material from a wide variety of time and place; as a singer with a powerful, clear, emotional voice; and as a conductor.

Psalmody started – perhaps in the time of David – with simple melodies of praise for solo voice accompanied by harp. The original Psalms were in the vernacular – a tradition restored by Calvin, who realized the power of them to bring both piety and joy. The concert started with a Hebrew Cantilation (Psalm 25) performed by voice and harp, followed by Ms. Azema singing from the audience. Gradually voices and instruments were added until the whole audience participated in Dowland’s setting of Psalm 100, a glorious hymn of praise.

The concert continued with Psalms of despair – “From the depths I called you, Lord, hear my prayer…,” “By the waters of Babylon we sat, and wept…” and went on the Psalms of a more secular bent (Jean Calvin would not have approved – but life includes love): Tant que Vivray – “While I am at my prime I will serve the all-powerful god of love, in actions and words, in songs and harmonies…” All were performed with feeling, skill, and emotional power by the Camerata’s instrumentalists and singers. Of special note were Anne Azema and Lydia Brotherton (soprano), Jason McStoots (tenor), Scott Metcalfe and Karina Fox (violin) and (in the second half) Michael Collver (cornetto).

The second half of the concert both started and ended with Psalms of pure joy. The high point for me was the rendition of “Lobet den Herrn” (Psalm 130) by Heinrich Schutz. Schutz’s skill with the marriage of vernacular text, melody and harmony uplifts the soul – even of this hardened non-believer. “Praise the Lord oh my soul, and forget not the generosity with which he has blessed your life…” The piece was performed with alternate strophes sung by the soloists of the Camerata and by the full forces of the Camerata with the Harvard Fellows. I complimented Mr. Jones after the concert on the superb performance of his singers. He acknowledged the praise – but said it was wonderful hearing the Schutz sung by just one voice per part. (And what fine voices!) A lengthy standing ovation followed the final piece, a setting of Psalm 98 by William Byrd.

In whole, a fabulous afternoon of song. The sound was recorded by WGBH, and the performance was videotaped. Listen for a re-broadcast, and look for a DVD.

David Griesinger is a Harvard-trained physicist who is eminent in the field of sound and music. His website is here.

1 Comment

  1. A lovely, uplifting, rejoicing concert.

    Comment by Charles Dickinson — November 21, 2009 at 2:49 am

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