The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Voces Aestatis will perform its second annual concert of 16th-century choral music this coming Friday night.

August 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the choral group Voces Aestatis (below) – which performs early and pre-Baroque music – send word:

Voces Aestatis (pronounced VO-ches Eh-STA-tees) – or Summer Voices — is a professional choir of 16 voices that specializes in choral literature from the Renaissance and earlier.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The choir will present its second annual concert in Madison on this coming Friday night, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. Tickets are $15 at the door.

Director Ben Luedcke (above, far left in front row, and below) has prepared a concert that will feature both sacred and secular works from the 16th century.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) is an intimate and acoustically ideal performance space for this ensemble — which is a highly select group of Madison singers, hand-picked for their vibrant voices, blended tone and experience with early music, particularly the a cappella repertoire of the 16th century.

One of the few professional choirs in Madison, this group of paid singers only rehearses a handful of times, performing once per year.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The first half of the concert will begin and end with double-choir pieces by Jean Mouton, and the master of the polychoral sub-genre, Giovanni Gabrieli. Music by William Byrd (below) and Jean l’Heritier celebrate the glory of God.

William Byrd

Also included are works by Giuseppe Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso (below), with texts taken from the Song of Songs. Though sanctioned in the Old Testament as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church, these biblical passages are infamous for their explicit erotic qualities and have been favorites of choral composers for centuries.

Music of Carlo Gesualdo and Antonio Lotti, with dramatic texts taken from the Tenebrae service of Good Friday round out the first half of the concert.

Orlando di Lasso

The second half features both English and Italian madrigals by Orlando Gibbons, John Bennet, Jacques Arcadelt, and Claudio Monteverdi (below). These highly sensual texts deal with lust as well as death, even questioning the meaning of our short lives.

Monteverdi 2

Video and audio recordings from last year’s concert are available on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogmeA8EYrW0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQQ-cDhyFao

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vzm2TmSEFjw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuRZ5b3NR6c

Voces Aestatis 2015 poster

 


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra, with guest soloists, offered a welcome trio of rarely heard works.

November 29, 2014
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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 for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Well, last weekend was another train-wreck weekend with too many good things in competition with each other: pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater (Thursday, Nov. 20), the Madison Opera’s Fidelio at the Overture Center (Friday, Nov. 21, and Sunday, Nov. 23), the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (Saturday, Nov. 22, and Sunday, Nov. 23), and the intimate Solo Dei Gloria concert at Luther Memorial Church (Saturday, Nov. 22). I won’t mention the basketball game, as well.

I was able to revel in Beethoven’s Fidelio on Friday evening, enjoy the SDGers on Saturday, and catch the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below) on Sunday evening. And a rewarding finale that was.

UW Choral Union and Symphony Nov. 2014

Conductor and director Beverly Taylor (below) wisely avoided any seasonal associations and gave us the chance to hear music that we are rarely likely to hear otherwise.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

There were three pieces.

The “filler” in the middle was a lushly exotic curiosity by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below), his Flos campi (or “floss campy,” as a Wisconsin Public Radio announcer identified it) — “Flower of the Field,” inspired by lines from the Biblical Song of Songs, and scored for the unusual combination of solo viola, wordless chorus and orchestra.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

It is a rhapsodic affair, in six interconnected sections, exploring the sonorities and novel colors that his scoring allows. While it evokes a perfumed “eastern” ambiance, much of its musical character really derives from the composer’s steeping in folksong and folk spirit.

The chorus’s size gave its sound a good carrying power, helping the wordless ah-ing and humming to come through well against the orchestra, while viola soloist Sally Chisholm (below), a UW-Madison professor who also plays in the Pro Arte Quartet, made a beautifully ecstatic web of sound that only the viola can really achieve. When have you last heard such a dreamy novelty, and when again are you likely to?

UW Choral Union Sally Chisholm

On other side of that music came two different settings of the familiar Latin canticle, Te Deum laudamus, by two different composers. This all-purpose liturgical text has been set many, many times by a procession of composers over the centuries, but it would be difficult to imagine two more utterly contrasting treatments than the ones we heard.

The better known (or less unknown) one of the two was that by opera composer Giuseppe Verdi (below), among his very last compositions and now reckoned as the fourth of his Quattro pezzi sacri or “Four Sacred Pieces.”

Verdi 2

It is in a style familiar from his only other important setting of Latin liturgical texts, his Requiem. It is straightforward but noble, monumental and powerful music, and it was brought off with eloquence. (You can heard it, accompanied by the art of Michelangelo in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

That was the closing work.

The opening one was the other Te Deum. Antonin Dvorák (below), though a devout Roman Catholic, composed very little sacred music in Latin. Setting aside a purely functional Mass setting, his only familiar and recognized examples are his Stabat mater and his Requiem. Both of those are deeply felt, but are grandiose concert works.

dvorak

The only other such work is his setting of the Te Deum, cruelly neglected and unappreciated. It was composed in 1892 as a debut work for Dvorák’s new residence in New York City, and was intended as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Against Verdi’s solemnity, Dvorák’s setting is festive. It is patterned along the lines of the traditional four-movement symphony, with a “slow movement” of folksong-like lyricism and a passionate “scherzo,” framed by flanking outpourings of extraordinary exuberance — all in unbroken succession.

For anyone who loves the music of this composer — as I do — or who is still discovering it, this work is an exciting revelation.

There were solo passages in the two Te Deums, beautifully sung by undergraduate soprano Emi Chen (below right) and graduate student baritone Joel Rathmann (below left).

Choral Union Joel Rathmann, Emi Chen

The UW Choral Union itself, 123 singers strong, sang with appropriate sonority. There were some rough spots in the opening of the Dvorák, with its off-putting rhythmic eccentricities, but the UW Symphony Orchestra played quite well otherwise — even if it sometimes was allowed to overshadow the other participants.

In sum, this proved an evening of truly refreshing choral experience, and another tribute to Beverly Taylor’s enterprise.


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