The 15th and 20th centuries touched to celebrate György Ligeti in a series of concerts which the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Lorelei Ensemble under Director Beth Willer and organist Heinrich Christensen jointly presented. At St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church in Boston, music drifted luminously on Sunday afternoon. A quarter of a century into the 21st, celebrants witnessed Renaissance influencers Dufay and Okeghem face to face with avant-garde leader Ligeti; expressions far apart in time showed unmistakable affinities.
These early composers are well-represented to this day as are those of Ligeti, best known for his Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem, and Aventures appearing in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Born in Transylvania, Romania, May 24, 1923, and died in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2006, Ligeti left the world a wealth of music for which we are thankful.
Lorelei Ensemble should be fairly well known in Boston, having performed with the BSO and in a number of other local venues. The ensemble’s website justly declares Lorelei “is changing what it means to be a group of women’s voices,” the ensemble equally committed to the past and present. Beyond that, is the absolute ensemble of voices.
Four of those voices sent Okeghem’s Kyrie from Missa prolacionum ablaze in resonance, the acoustics of St. Cecilia serving as a fine transmitter catching a good-sized turnout with ears pinned to such spectacle of sound. For Dufay’s Rite maiorem iacobum canamus an a cappella quartet continued enveloping our presence with Latin vowels that, in melismatic passages particularly, traveled all about the sanctuary as an opulent ooh or a long o. These, though, turned attention away from text, “Let us duly sing James the Elder, the glory of the highest order,” and toward an increasing awareness of Lorelei’s ever-soaring voices throughout the brief hour-and-half program
Ligeti’s Idegen Földön, short songs for two sopranos and alto (Lament, A black raven, Don’t look, and The summer wind blows) suggested a syntax from long-held western a cappella traditions. More Dufay, O proles Hispanie, this time a song to advocate Anthony, “a light to enlighten Italy, a teacher of truth,” the Latin text heard subservient to Lorelei’s finely intertwined voices, their angelic reaches and contrasting darker timbres. Contrasts in movement from Lorelei also refreshed the course of 15th c. adventure.
Frescobaldi’s Recercar chromaticho post il Credo, from Missa degil Apostoli is the title as it appears in the program, no translation given. Translations of the sung texts were provided. That no dates or further information on the selections were given, not even, thankfully, spoken introductions—add to that no intermission—seemed to further direct celebrants to absorb the music itself. Such prevailing simplicity ultimately fostered a celebrant’s get-away from the daily grind. Heinrich Christensen’s restraint in choosing the colors of the organ coupled with a large measure of interpretive experience allowed the 15th c. Frescobaldi and the 20th c. Ligeti Ricercare to mystify contemporary senses, both pieces becoming virtual twins.
Ligeti’s folkish songs Négy lakodalmi tanc introduced the composer’s happier, Romanian side. With Lorelei’s prompting and Joseph Vasconi’s robust piano accompaniment the feel of a village scene came about. A contemporary of Ligeti, György Kurtág penned five short pieces for organ, Játékok, beaming in and out of reality stunningly offered in strikingly colorful array by Christensen.
Prenez sur moi vostre exemple amoureux and Agnus dei from Missa prolacionum of Okeghem paired off with Flos florum and Apostolo glorioso of Dufay. At this point in the program, differences between the two early composers became pronounced, Ockeghem working with complex rounds at different speeds; Dufay offering more verticality or harmony, a lighter and delineated touch. Also becoming apparent with Lorelei, unequal part-singing, a single standout voice as the foreground, the remaining somewhat distant three voices simulating a small crowd as the middle ground.
To conclude, Dufay’s Apostolo glorioso and Ligeti’s two organ Etudes lifted off in a final salute, first with a chanson’s lightness from Lorelei and next by an urban nocturne’s evaporating noises piping like industrial machines finally shutting off. This, from Christensen. “…for your resting-place and for thy tomb this holy cave; I pray thee….” From Lorelei, heavenly voices, then the timelessness of the etudes from Christensen streaming infinite pulsations.