in: Reviews

February 16, 2012

Naughty and Nice: 16th-Century Madrigals


Schola Cantorum, under the direction of Frederick Jodry, performed a program featuring works by Orlando di Lasso and Cipriano de Rore on Friday, February 10th at the Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Boston. In a program titled The Folly of Love, the mostly secular selections were lighthearted and often humorous, albeit excellent examples of 16th-century madrigals, motets, and chansons. The program featured a number of playfully bawdy songs poking fun at romance, giving the concert an amusing twist on Valentine’s Day. The group’s versatility stylistically captured the humorous essence of many of the pieces, all performed with expertise. These pieces, in particular benefited from the group’s tendency to lean towards historical perception practice (rather than historically authentic): opting for the performance that would best capture the effect intended by the music to today’s listeners rather than dwelling on recreating an artifact most closely representing the performance in its own time.

While the group struggled a bit to achieve a satisfying balance and blend in the first few sacred selections (Surrexit Pastor Bonus, Adoramus te, Christe, and Beati pauperes), the Adoramus, which featured the women of the ensemble, stood out as the most entrancing. Cantus singers Anney Gillotte, Sacha Peiser, Vicky Reichert, Margot Rood, and Altus singers Emily Isaacson and Allegra Martin created an ethereal and warm atmosphere in the simple sacred motet.

An interesting element of Schola Cantorum’s program was its grouping of pieces under subtitles; the opening sacred pieces, “For the Church,” were followed by “Naughty Love Songs,” a selection of very secular works by Lasso. To give the general idea: Lasso’s works in the first set, beginning “The Good Shepherd is risen. . .” is followed by “A young monk left the convent, and met a young nun with a nice body,…” (You may fill in the rest). These “indecent” works are by far Lasso’s best, as he better incorporates his wonderful sense of wit into the setting of the often hysterical texts. The ensemble performed the pieces with the context in mind, reminding us that these pieces would most likely have been performed with copious amounts of wine. Une jeune Moine est sorti du couvent was perhaps a little overly rambunctious, particularly in the lower voices, though the attention to dramatic expression was appreciated.

The following selections from Cipriano de Rore showed the breadth of the composer’s compositional output. With Cipriano, also, his secular works stand out far beyond his sacred ones; and while the liberally brisk tempo in the magnificent parody of Ancor che col partire may have been a bit excessive, it was intriguing to hear the secular tune and the sacred parody juxtaposed. Andrea Gabrieli’s reprise of Anchor. . .  illustrated some of the interesting international cross-pollination of Flemish and Italian styles and provided the low voices of the group — Arthur Rawding, Ben Skerritt, Jason Wang, Fred Jodry (Schola Cantorum’s director), Ari Nieh, and Ian Pomerantz — a moment to shine.

Lasso’s Mia benigna fortuna and Cipriano de Rore’s O Sonno and Ben qui mostra were grouped together as “Sublime Madrigals.” And indeed, sublime they were! Being a few of the most exceptional works on the program, they were performed with an immaculate attention to detail. Ben qui mostra received a fantastic performance, doing justice to a gorgeous setting of a serene text. My only gripe was the distraction of a strange practice of singers voicelessly enunciating the consonants in other singers’ parts at the start of lines (perhaps for unity, or articulation purposes). And across the program, the group often exhibited what we electronic musicians call a “disco smile” — an EQ [equalization] pattern that accentuates the high and low frequencies and attenuates the midrange. In this case, there was often a whole lot of high voice and low voice, sometimes at the unfortunate expense of the inner voices (which, in this music, are often the most important parts).

Ending the program with “Silly Songs for Carnival” was fitting for the general theme of the concert but seemed merely to serve as comic relief to the madrigal. Hört zu ein neues Gedicht was particularly humorous, complete with feigned sneezes in a song about noses (“broad ones, pointed ones. . . three-sided and bulbous ones, four-sided and troll-like ones. . .”). You get the idea. I probably could have done without the closing number, Chi la gagliarda. Overall, it was quite a dynamic and particularly diverse program, particularly considering that it all revolved around only two composers. Though Schola Cantorum is in its 25th season, this is the first time I have heard them perform. No doubt, I will be adding their performances to the growing list of Boston-based early music ensembles to attend.

Peter Van Zandt Lane is a composer and bassoonist who performs regularly in the Boston area. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.


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