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Diversity Enlivens


In a BEMF fringe concert seen only by a few, students from Case Western Reserve University’s shared a HIP of 17th-century Parisian music in Old South’s Gordon Chapel. “Rares et Diverses Muziques” mixed vocal music (both sacred and secular), operatic scenes, and dances performed by the vocal and instrumental students, several of whom doubled as dancers. Despite the broad mix, the concert didn’t feel like a variety show, because all came from the same place and period. Such cornucopias often set Early Music apart. Can you imagine attending a concert of Tchaikovsky and hearing Marche Slave, excerpts from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and Swan Lake with dancing?

Simon Vouet French ca. 1618

A well-balanced trio of female voices essayed Antoine Boesset’s motet Quam Pulchra es, sopranos Alissa Magee and Andrea Walker blended beautifully over Kameryn Lueng’s darker mezzo. Their interpretation seemed grounded in the Italian madrigal genre (Boesset’s inspiration), with the emphasis on natural singing over histrionics. In both the staged and un-staged numbers, they engaged the audience with lively gestures and facial expressions. The women seemed comfortable on their feet in all of their numbers and unencumbered by their lovely period costuming. Don Verkuilen’s tasteful organ continuo supported the singers transparently, and he saved ornaments for the charming interludes.

The upper strings (Phail Tzhi Chua, Andrew Hatfield, and Bruno Lunkes, violin; Jonathan Goya, viola) brought a verity of sounds to the French music. Chua shaped her part with the most fantastic ornaments, including slides and enfler (a gambist’s term for the ‘inflation’ of sound that comes from varying the bow’s speed). Hatfield, perhaps a fiddler at heart, led the dance numbers with the violin in the crook of his arm. He adorned the jubilant dances with plenteous ornamentation and produced a sound that leapt as far as any dancer could. The excerpts from Desmarets’s Didon included a quartet for two sopranos (Walker and Magee, I believe) and two recorders, with Lunkes and Goya doubling on the woodwind instruments. The dulcet recorders melded with the singers celestially.

The continuo players (Danur Kvilhaug, theorbo; Jane Leggiero, viola da gamba; Mikhail Grazhdanov, harpsichord; Macarena Sanches, cello) provided a solid bedrock. Kvilhaung’s lute sang like a bell in the chapel. He added a serene, emotive tone to the organ in the sacred repertoire which couldn’t have been more different from the ruckusy strumming in the dances which enlivened the rhythms as much as a tambourine. In the Boesset motet, Leggiero and Sanches inflected their basslines like singers, always taking care to balance in trio, duet, and solo vocal textures. Grazhdanov’s harpsichord playing was unobtrusive but highly tasteful, not falling into the “getting paid by the note” fallacy that seems to plague so many harpsichordists who prefer to fill every space with a pluck or ping.

Although I know little about dancing, a BEMF chorus dancer (she was one of the statues that came to life in the third act of Circe) happened to be sitting next to me. She was very pleased with their foot work as most classical musicians aren’t as dedicated to learning steps. Lueng, Magee, Walker and Chua gracefully minuetted, gavotted, canariesed, and rigaudoned around the chapel, the fluttering motions of their feet mirroring Hatfields graceful melodic ornaments while remaining as effervescent as Walker’s weightless soprano.

A musicology PhD student at Boston University, Christopher Hodges earned a M.M. in organ performance with Peter Sykes.

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