IN: Reviews

Otherworldly Tears Flowed


The viol consort Nota Bene (Joanna Blendulf, treble and bass viols, Sarah Mead, alto viol, Wendy Gillespie, tenor viol; Emily Walhout, bass viol); with Amney Barrett, soprano; and Michael Barrett, tenor; mined great pathos in “So Far From Home,” based on “themes of exile and separation,” for SOHIP (Society for Historically Informed Performance) at Emmanuel Church in Boston last Thursday.

Short compositions from 16thand 17th-century Europe formed the core of the program, which also included music of two contemporary New England composers (William Ayton and Roy Sansom). Five sets, each evoked a different aspect of the diaspora experience. The first, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” opened with Ruimonte’s “On the furthest shores of Spain,” the lament of a Portuguese exile. Barrett and Barrett united in their pathos with the viol quartet complementing the emotional anguish.

Fantasia by Will Ayton (b. 1948) on a Sephardic song described the suffering of the Jews following the expulsion from Spain. Tenor Barrett sang a short introduction, after which a viol trio impressed with nuanced bowing; all three brought alive the plaintive voice which Ayton had in mind. Interspersed parallel 16th notes, played by any combination of two instruments, imparted an exotic, noteworthy, possibly Persian sound. The set closed with Verses 4-6 from Psalm 137 which they sang in Latin, asking “how should we sing the lord’s prayer in a foreign land?” The soprano added a pleading element to her chant, once again embodying the misery and disorientation that accompanies exile.

Set 2, “Memories of Captivity and dreams of retribution” presented four settings of verses 1-2 of Psalm 137. In the first, by Goudimel, the soprano range was low and closely tied to the tenor line. The two often articulated the same word simultaneously and sang equivalent note values. The singers meshed their parts beautifully. Breathing together, and varying volume and intensity together they created a bewitching duo. A Hebrew lamentation by Salomone Rossi, for tenor solo and three viols provided another standout. The set ended with Pietro Vinci’s Tolti dal latte, from Vittoria Colonna’s The Slaughter of the Innocents. We experienced a fine example of word painting when the piece’s somber character lifted at the description of tiny cherubs ascending to heaven.

“Exiled forever, let me mourn” opened with John Dowland’s Flow My Tears, for soprano solo and viol quartet. Ameny Barrett, singing in the mezzo-soprano range communicated a restrained, yet lush tone quality. The quartet of viols supported the soprano as if one, creating a duet between viols and voice. Then came Pavane Lachrimae, by an unknown composer, a quartet of viols. Sweet and singing, the musicians utilized a subtle rubato, just enough to let the viol’s natural resonance speak. Roy Sansom’s Lachrimae solitudinis, written for soprano recorder and viol quartet followed. Again, a solemn courtliness prevailed as the set closed

“Sicut dolo meus” (if there be any sorrow like my sorrow) showcased four Renaissance pieces. Tomkins’s, for viols only, elicited stateliness from the group’s rhythmic precision. In Michael Cavendish’s “Wandering in this place” the vocalists became more emotionally demonstrative. The material lent itself to such treatment (“wandering in this place as in a wilderness”) and made for a satisfying spiritual progression.

The final set, “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” comprised examples by Henrich Isaac, Jacob Clemens and Alfonso Ferrabosco, Isaac’s Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen came across as the standout. Soprano and tenor each sang one verse solo, they then came together for the third. Again, the stepwise melodic motion, and straightforward rhythm offered great charm, which the singers communicated in a beguiling manner. Musica laeta by Alfonso Ferrabosco, written in a flowing, imitative counterpoint well suited to viols, closed the program.

The soaring vaults and stained-glass windows of Emmanuel Church enhanced the satisfying other worldliness of the evening.

Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.

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