It seems clear that angelic voices come not only from Leipzig, as reviewed recently, but also from right here in New York City. Soloists from the Clarion Music Society were presented by the 5 Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) in a concert of late 16th century music featuring works by Salamone Rossi and Claudio Monteverdi. Jesse Blumberg, Artistic Director of 5BMF, lent his fine baritone to the ensemble, while Steven Fox, Artistic Director of the Clarion Music Society and Cantor Joshua Breitzer provided not only strength in the tenor section but educational insights as well.
The Hebrew liturgical music we heard was among the very first polyphonic settings and were performed a capella as they had been heard in synagogues at that time. Early 17th c. pieces by Monteverdi were performed in Latin as they might have been heard in the court of Mantua.
The second half of the program comprised mostly secular songs in an early Italian that seemed quite understandable. We particularly enjoyed Monteverdi's "Lamento della Ninfa" in which soprano Sherezade Panthaki bemoaned the loss of her lover while tenors Steven Fox and Daniel Pincus joined Mr. Blumberg in an ensemble which related the story somewhat as a Greek chorus might. We also loved soprano Molly Quinn's deeply felt performance of "Tirsi Mio" by Rossi; one cannot help noting the strong presence of abandoned women in the secular songs of the period! (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)
These songs were accompanied by harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire who also played a dazzling solo--Bernardo Storace's "Ciaconna" which included some rather frisky scale passages and trills. David Walker performed a solo on the theorbo, a member of the lute family invented in 1580 to accompany singers. Composed by Bellerofonte Castaldi, it was entitled "Lusinghevole passeggio". We enjoyed learning a little about this amazing instrument that covers so many octaves and has a neck as long as a giraffe. Carlo Gesualdo's madrigal "Moro, lasso, al mio duolo" was performed with both theorbo and harpsichord. The harmonies and key changes were strange, modern and arresting.
The lengthy closing number, Rossi's "Eftach na sefatai" was notable for the stereophonic effect of having two antiphonal choirs separated by the length of the chapel. At this point, we must comment on the setting for this lovely concert. We felt as if we were in a Renaissance palazzo but we were in a rustic chapel of Brooklyn's Congregation Beth Elohim which, as we learned, was completed just before the stock market crash of 1929. The floor is composed of variegated stones of grey, green and terra cotta hue. Wrought iron candelabras abound and the roughly plastered walls are of ochre. The carved wooden ceiling is actually faux but the painted plaster could have fooled us. It was the perfect setting for some fine music. The concert delighted the eye as well as the ear.
5BMF never lets us down! Unusual programs are brought to the outlying boroughs of New York and ticket prices are eminently affordable. Watch out for concerts in January in both The Bronx and Brooklyn.
(c) meche kroop