Monday, October 27, 2014

Masterly Monteverdi at BEMF

Teresa Wakim and Danielle Reutter-Harrah. Photos: Kathy Wittman.
Sigh. What has taken me so long to rave about the Boston Early Music Festival's transporting concert, "Monteverdi Madrigals: Songs of Love and War," which left Jordan Hall in rapture two weeks ago?

I'm not sure; perhaps people are right to say that something too evenly superb is somehow a little daunting to write about!  For BEMF's rendering of Monteverdi was indeed sublime pretty much across the board.

Which came as no surprise, actually, as Monteverdi is a BEMF specialty (which is why you should not miss the trilogy of opera productions the company is reviving this coming summer). The Festival by now can tap into an extraordinarily accomplished stable of singers - although this concert's roster was particularly dazzling: if you haven't heard Charles Blandy, Jason McStoots, Reginald Mobley (a newcomer, I think, to the Boston concert scene), Danielle Reutter-Harrah, Teresa Wakim and Douglas Williams sing early music, do not miss your next chance. And the performance of the instrumental ensemble, led by leading BEMF lights Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs on chitarrones, and featuring Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski on violin, was at least equally exquisite.

The works themselves were largely drawn from the master's eighth - and largest, and final - vocal collection, "Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi," ("Madrigals of War and Love") - although many of these pieces stretch the madrigal form far beyond what many folks may remember from their brush with it in high school chorus. The haunting "Ogni amante è guerrier" ("Every lover a warrior"), for instance, showcases an extraordinary stretch of solo singing which is not only desolate but resolutely dramatic - indeed, throughout much of the selections from the "libro ottavo," one felt the tug of opera on the madrigal.

But perhaps drama is inevitable when a composer braids the lover and the fighter as tightly together as Monteverdi did here. Which isn't to say he gave short shrift to love's lush languors, or its laments; in fact "Ego flos campi" ("I am the Rose of Sharon," drawn from the "Song of Songs") and "Lamento della Ninfa" are both built on some of his most ravishing vocal lines. Nor does the solo singer dominate these later works - Monteverdi extends polyphony to almost symphonic levels, in fact, in portions of "Hor che'l ciel, e la terra" ("Now that Heaven and Earth"). Indeed, vocal variety might have been the hallmark of the concert - but the emotional tone often evidenced a rueful, lonely streak; Monteverdi's libro ottavo was actually something of a retrospective, and included songs written years prior to its publication in 1638.  But none are the musings of a young or innocent man.

Jason McStoots, Charles Blandy and Douglas Williams gear up for love - and war.

The world-weary undertow of these pieces, however, only threw the maturity of these performers into higher relief. McStoots and Blandy were at their finest in the witty "Gira il nemico, insidioso Amore" ("The Enemy, Insidious Love") while the more-aloof Williams found his stride as the quixotic knight of "Ogni amante è guerrier."  Meanwhile soprano and mezzo Wakim and Reutter-Harrah blended beautifully in  "Chiome d'oro" ("Tresses of Gold"), and opal-toned counter-tenor Mobley sculpted Ego flos campi into a luminous cameo.  At the same time the instrumental ensemble brought their familiar level of nimble mastery to selections from Castello and Falconieri (Monteverdi left behind no purely instrumental work). Here the standouts were violinists Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski, whose playing on Castello’s “Sonata undecima" was a marvel of sensitive partnership - which was perhaps the secret key to the success of the entire evening.

The next concert in BEMF's season features Kenneth Weiss on harpsichord, Nov. 1 at the First Church in Cambridge.

No comments:

Post a Comment