in: Reviews

June 22, 2011

Oberlin, U of Georgia Contribute to BEMF’s Fringe

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Early Music America has been presenting concerts all week as part of the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival’s Fringe Concert division. This reviewer heard two of them, University of Georgia Collegium Musicum and Oberlin College Conservatory of Music’s historical informed performance, respectively at 10:00 am on Monday June 13 at First Church in Boston and at 12:30 pm on Friday June 17 at Boston’s First Lutheran Church. Both were excellent concerts in contrasting ways.

The University of Georgia’s Collegium Musicum is a vocal group made up of fifteen young singers singing a cappella and occasionally accompanied by organ and harpsichord. The theme was Of Convents and Courts: Music by Women Composers of the Renaissance and Baroque Eras. As such it was all new music to this reviewer.

The extremely well presented one-hour concert was bookended by the full ensemble and interspersed with smaller ensembles, even one positif organ solo. The composers were Sulpitia Cesis, Maddalena Casulana, Gratia Baptista, Raphaela Aleotta, Francesa Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, and Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.

Mitos Andaya, associate director of choral activities, has a fine soprano voice, which she included in a duet with one of the basses, accompanied by harpsichord. She gets good sound from her singers in various ensembles.

The Oberlin group presented Trauermusick, cantatas about death, by Georg Philipp Telemann and J. S. Bach. Telemann’s Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin, TWV 4:17, was a first hearing for this reviewer. Bach’s was the ever-popular Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106.

Scored for one violin, oboe, and recorder, two viols da gamba, one cello, positif organ, and four singers, the Telemann cantata began sadly with a purely instrumental sonata. Then we heard from the singers. The bass, having most of the recitatives and arias, singled himself out with superb German pronunciation. The soprano was disturbed by a ringing phone, perhaps from the office. This happened in both cantatas, but the male alto soldiered on in the Bach. The Telemann had a perfectly balanced quartet, with intriguing orchestration, in the final chorus, based on the text “Sleep well, blessed bones.”

Bach is the better composer, and when you have a splendid early cantata like the Actus Tragicus, you are in for a treat. It has lighter orchestration than the Telemann, two recorders, two viols da gamba, organ, and the same four singers grouped differently. It begins with a two-and-a-half-minute sonatina, with the gambas offering their undulating phrases over the recorders’ melodies. Then the title chorus appears sung by the four singers.

This chorus is short, as are all sections of this cantata. (Does Bach mean to underline the brevity of life?) A particularly beautiful thing occurs during the end of the soprano aria, when the voice fades away over the words “Death has become my sleep.” The final chorus is magnificent, with a faster section towards the end. “The divine power makes us victorious,” indeed.

The Boston Early Music Festival is always challenging us with new old music.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

 

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