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
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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.


Classical music: The Mendota Consort gives a FREE performance of motets by Johann Schein in Madison this Saturday night. Performances in Eau Claire and Milwaukee are tonight and Friday night

July 19, 2018
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ALERT: The superb Willy Street Chamber Players are back from a week of free and Community Connect concerts. They resume their regular summer series this Friday at 6 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street. The guest artist is UW-Madison saxophonist Les Thimmig who will play six arias from the opera “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin. A rarely heard String Quintet by Alexander Glazunov ends the program. Tickets are $15.

The last concert is next Friday, July 27, and features flute, clarinet and piano soloists in music by Luigi Boccherini, Sergei Prokofiev, Andrew Norman and Johann Strauss/Arnold Schoenberg. For more information, go to:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/07/05/classical-music-you-know-brahms-but-who-are-caroline-shaw-colin-jacobsen-and-michael-kelley-the-willy-street-chamber-players-will-show-you-this-friday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following announcement:

The early music vocal ensemble The Mendota Consort (below) invites you to an evening of madrigals from Israelsbrünnlein, a collection by the 17th-century composer Johann Schein. (Editor’s note: You can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Vocalists who are dedicated to Renaissance polyphony, The Mendota Consort will present a story of ancient Israel though dramatic 1623 treatments by Schein (below) of sacred texts.

Admission is free with donations kindly accepted.

The Madison performance is this Saturday night, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave.

Other performances are:

Tonight, Thursday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Saint Edward’s Montessori School, 1129 Bellevue Ave., in Eau Claire.

Friday night, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cathedral Church of All Saints, 818 East Juneau Ave., in Milwaukee.

You can learn more and follow the group on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TheMendotaConsort/


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