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Spotlight on French Baroque by Cappella Clausura


Only seven years old, Cappella Clausura has managed to come a far way in its young life, having released no less than two CDs (a third is in the making) and consistently surprising Boston audiences with vibrant performances of both contemporary and early music. The evening of Saturday, April 3, was no different: at the Episcopal Parish of the Messiah in Newton, the ensemble managed a thoughtful performance of the works of lesser-known female composers of the French Baroque, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and the mysterious Madamoiselle Laurant, as well as Dorothy Lamb Crawford’s 1980 composition, Portrait of Anne Bradstreet.

We were slowly steeped into the many themes of Saturday evening’s concert by some chamber pieces by Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, a child prodigy writing for the court of Louis XIV. Harpsichordist Hendrik Broekman began the concert with a solo performance of the Suite in D from her Pieces de Clavecin. Broekman approached the work with an easy facility and an air of conversation; he had warned: “As conventional as it may sound to you, it ain’t.”  Fair enough: Broekman’s reading allowed the work to speak as a whole as opposed to a display of the pyrotechnics of each movement. But even then, it was hard to miss some of radical chromaticism, playful syncopation or brow-raising shifts in key that littered de La Guerre’s piece. These themes continued in the following Suonata in B-flat major, written for a chamber ensemble. Here, Gigi Turgeon and Laura Gulley, violins, and Mai-Lan Broekman, viola da gamba, joined Broekman. The first half of Saturday evening’s concert ended with a performance of La Guerre’s Le sommeil d’Ulisse for which soprano Kimberly Sizer collaborated with a chamber ensemble. Vivid colors of both ensemble and soloist filled the nave of the parish in rich, deeply satisfying sounds.

The second half of Saturday evening’s program began with Dorothy Lamb Crawford’s Portrait of Anne Bradstreet, a work inspired by the life and works the America’s first published poet. A cantata for soprano voice, recorder, violin and harpsichord, the work occupies a spare, exposed soundscape. The first two movements, a pavane and galliard, incorporate recognizable elements of eighteenth-century music (here a traditional ostinato, here an Alberti bass), yet tonally offset individual parts culminate in a dystopic view of Baroque and Classical music. Soprano Adriana Repetto joined the ensemble for the final two movements — settings of two poems, one celebrating Bradstreet’s husband, another mourning the loss of her house after the fire. It’s hard to know what to do with these works: Repetto’s voluptuous tone was simply ravishing, accentuating a deep elegy in both movements. But the unique instrumentation lends an unbecoming austerity and astonishing crudeness to the music. And although Crawford’s work is complex and deserving of multiple listenings, the narration — written and, on Saturday evening, spoken by Crawford herself — employs a first person from the point of view of Bradstreet herself. I couldn’t help but think that this addition, at least, was a mistake: perhaps for a children’s concert, the illustration of the hardships of Colonial life would have been appropriate; Saturday evening, this technique somehow distracted from the music and patronized the audience.

Saturday’s concert closed in grand style with Broekman’s edited transcription of Madamoiselle Laurant’s Le Concert. The work, scored for chamber ensemble and soloists, found Clausura at its very best. Soloists act both as individual players and as small ensemble to illustrate the pastoral drama of Tircis and Celimene. Although the story isn’t much to speak of (boy loves girl, there’s some kerfuffle, girl ends up loving boy, too), I appreciated members of the ensemble’s dramatic approach to the work. As soloists, each member offered a unique color to the pastiche. Of particular note was the interplay between Patrick Massey and Julia Steinbok. Although not as rich in his upper register, Massey’s simple, yet elegant, tone flourished in contrast to Steinbok’s dramatic soprano: a crisp, brilliantly colored voice. Yet as ensemble, these individual lines managed to coalesce into a coherent blend–a closing chorus, incorporating each of these individual voices offered a deeply satisfying close to Saturday evening’s concert.

Cappella Clausura repeats this program on Sunday, April 3, at 5pm at First Lutheran Church of Boston.

Sudeep Agarwala is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He performs with various choral groups throughout Boston and Cambridge.

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