We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Pedro d'Aquino, Jessica Gould, Noa Frenkel, James Waldo, and Diego Cantalupi
(photo credit--Stephen de las Heras)

A full house proved the magnificent Fabbri Library of the House of the Redeemer was the place to be on Sunday for Salon/Sanctuary Concert’s seventh season opener featuring music of baroque Italy. A reprise of last season’s compelling program of Jewish and Catholic cross-pollination through music, From Ghetto to Cappella was completely sold out. While we felt badly for the many concertgoers who were turned away for lack of space, we welcomed the chance to enjoy for the second time this eye-opening array of musical treasures and fascinating  concert, which showed more dialogue than segregation during one of the most oppressive periods in history. 

During the time of the Counter-Reformation, the world’s first ghetto was built in Venice, physically separating Jews from Christians and putting even further limits on their mobility in Christian society. The music from the time reveals more of an exchange than isolation, however, and in true Salon/Sanctuary fashion, the concert explored a theme overlooked by other presenters – in this case, the effect each religious musical culture had on the other.

Fans of Jessica Gould’s roving concert series have come to expect visual splendor with intellectual stimulation from Salon/Sanctuary events, and Sunday’s program served an ample helping of both in the exquisite 1608 Library. Ms. Gould, not only a fervent scholar but a fine soprano, participated in a performance replete with both passion and precision. Five musicians – Ms. Gould, contralto Noa Frenkel, James Waldo on viola da gamba, lutenist Diego Cantalupi and Pedro d’Aquino on organ and harpsichord – did exquisite justice to a delectible variety of baroque treasures sung in Latin, Italian, and Hebrew.

Israeli contralto Noa Frenkel opened the program with a haunting ancient Hebrew chant from Yemen, D’ror Yikra, which segued into Durante’s Vergin tutto Amor, known as a pedagogical piece, here passionately sung by Ms. Gould with striking ornamentation that recalled the phrygian modes heard just moments ago in the preceding selection. The rich timbre and full-bodied sound of both soprano and contralto was a welcome contrast to a the vocal androgyny that has become commonplace and even (mystifyingly) celebrated in some early music circles.

We love duets, and it was lovely to hear the two women’s rich voices blending effortlessly in O immaculata, a sacred piece from Benedetto Marcello’s large volumeL’Estro Poetico Armonico, which integrated the melodies of chants he heard in the synagogue into cantatas and duets with Italian texts.

The Jewish-Italian composer Salomone Rossi has figured prominently in Salon/Sanctuary programming, with four previous seasons including a concert dedicated solely to his work. Rossi got into trouble with members of his own community for integrating the polyphony of the church into Hebrew sacred music that he wrote for synagogue services, because polyphony was considered too sensuous a form for people who considered themselves to be in exile. The two Rossi songs on the concert, Cor mio, sung by Ms Gould, and Ohime che tanto amate, sung by Ms. Frenkel, were performed with tasteful ornamentation and stylistic flair, accompanied with panache by the winning continuo team of gambist James Waldo and lutenist Diego Cantalupi.

Mr. Cantalupi, a visiting guest artist from Italy, shined in two works by Girolamo Kapsberger, a Venetian composer of noble German birth who wrote extravagant works for lute. With his impressive instrument, the long-necked theorbo, Mr. Cantalupi’s turn as a soloist in a Kapsberger Sarabanda and Toccata was marked by technical finesse and stylistic aplomb.

The innovative and trailblazing female composer Barbara Strozzi received a level of recognition in her lifetime that was simply unheard of for women composers of the 17th century, and she received her due on Sunday in two selections, one sacred and one secular. Ranging from soprano heights to contralto depths, Ms. Gould performed a wildly inventive Salve Regina that was equal parts spiritual and earthly passion. Handling the byzantine melismatic passages and striking chromatic descents with ease, Ms. Gould’s dramatic commitment and vocal sheen kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Ms. Frenkel’s chocolate contralto showed an equally expansive range in the gorgeous cantata Lagrime Mie, in which cantorial hebraic chant-like fragments can be heard in the laments of an abandoned lover.

Two Handel selections capped off the program. In the chamber duet Langue, geme, the two dark-hued voices intertwined in langorous legato stretches and matched impressively in lines of virtuosic coloratura. Immediately after, a short but powerful dramtic duet from the oratorio Esther, sung here in Hebrew from the 1759 version commissioned by the Jewish community of Amsterdam brought the concert to an inspiring conclusion. The rollicking allegro from the Langue, gemeduet served as a playful encore.

While our tastes run to polyphony over chant, From Ghetto to Cappella is a beautifully performed, thought-provoking and musically splendid program that we hope to see reprised again on future seasons so that more people can hear it. Special thanks go out to NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò for their role as co-producers of the event.

(c) meche kroop

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