The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mendota Consort’s outstanding concert of music by the early Baroque master Johann Schein left one wanting more of both the music and the singers | July 25, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

The Mendota Consort is to some extent a spin-off of the Madison Early Music Festival, first in 2017 and now this year.

Its membership has been shifting, though the versatile Jerry Hui has been a cornerstone, and the drive for its continuity has been the work of Maya Webne-Behrman.

The group’s concert at Luther Memorial Church on last Saturday night was the last of three performances given around the state. There are plans for several concerts in the season ahead, around the country, despite the members’ diverse and far-flung individual residences.

The group performing this latest program are five singers. As shown in the photograph below, they are (from left): sopranos Webne-Behrman and Chelsie Propst; bass Matt Chastain, alto Hui, and tenor Drew Ivarson.

Their program for these current concerts was devoted to selections from the collection Fontana d’Israel, or Israel’s Brünnlein, published in 1623 by Johann Hermann Schein (below, 1586-1630), one of the important composers of the early German Baroque, and a distant predecessor of Johann Sebastian Bach in his position in Leipzig.

The collection’s title is conventionally translated as the “Fountain of Israel” but might also be rendered as “Israel’s Wellspring.” It consists of 26 relatively short pieces setting texts that the composer selected from various books of the Old Testament, texts with messages both personal and communal between Jehovah and His Chosen People.

These five-voice pieces — with optional basso seguentefor organ — might readily be construed as choral works in the post-Renaissance polyphonic style. But that would be a mistake, for the publication’s long subtitle stipulates that these are “in a special, graceful Italian manner.”  In other words, they are madrigals, not motets. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

They show a German composer learning particularly from Claudio Monteverdi, constantly using his early trick of turning the five-voice writing into exchanges between two “trios,” consisting of Soprano-Soprano-Alto against Alto-Tenor-Bass, with the alto voice singing in both.  (So Jerry Hui never got any rest!)

The clever part-writing deserves to be heard with absolute clarity. And that is what these five singers gave us, with admirably precise German diction as well. They performed only nine selections from the full 26, effectively only one hour’s worth of music, but demanding the most disciplined part-singing, which can be very tiring for the vocalists.

This seemingly short program left one craving more, but it was a beautiful treasure in itself. It makes one hope earnestly for the Mendota Consort to continue to flourish and mature — and to return to Madison as soon as possible.


  1. Yes indeed ! A wonderful concert and many wishes for a quick and frequent return! It has been a banner year or two for Schein in Madison as was often sung during the last MEMF as well as the recent 2 concert traversal of the Fontana d’Israel by the UW’s madrigal singers . The Mendota’s one per part singing was a lovely contrast to the fuller but equally beautiful chamber choir performance by the Madrigal Choir.

    Comment by Randall Wilkins — July 26, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

  2. Hi Jake: Interestingly, you or John may want to come to tonight’s concert on the Square. We are opening with the 1617 Suite No.16 in A minor by Johann Schein. (I programmed this a year ago!). How cool to read about the Mendota consort’s concert of 5 part songs. This Suite is an instrumental only suite out of the 20 Banchetto Musicales he wrote. It is in 4 parts originally for a Consort of Viols but I have arranged it for woodwinds, brass and strings. We are also featuring Colin Davin guitarist from Cleveland performing the complete Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo. Juilliard’trained and now on faculty at the Cleveland Institute.

    Please let John know. I thought he may be curious since he enjoyed Schein’s music so much. We are also performing Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos written in 2000, De Falla Spanish Dance No.1 from La Vide Breve, and Ginastera’s Estancia. Next week is the complete New World Symphony and Jubilant Sykes.


    On Wed, Jul 25, 2018, 12:02 AM The Well-Tempered Ear wrote:

    > welltemperedear posted: “By Jacob Stockinger Here is a special posting, a > review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. > Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the > University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-kno” >

    Comment by andrewsewellblog — July 25, 2018 @ 11:25 am

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