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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University

In the impressive St. Paul's Chapel, with it's mosaic marble floor, intricate brickwork and stained glass windows, it would be easy to pretend that you were in Venice during the seicento.  And if you had ever attended a Salon/Sanctuary Concert you would have known that you would be leaving at the end of the recital "From Ghetto to Capella" with an uplifted spirit and an expanded knowledge of the chosen theme--the musical exchanges between the Catholic Church and the Jewish ghetto.  We like our entertainment with edification!

Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Gould is as impeccable in her scholarship as she is generous with her artistry.  Last night's program explored the theme and illustrated it with over an hour of carefully curated selections, sung by Ms. Gould, a soprano, and contralto Noa Frenkel.  The fine musicians comprised Grant Herreid who alternated between lute and theorbo, Pedro d'Aquino, equally skilled at the organ and the harpsichord, and James Waldo who played the viola da gamba.

We happily recall a program previously seen entitled "From Ghetto to Palazzo" which focused on the music of Salamone Rossi, a groundbreaking Jewish composer of the period who dared to set sacred Hebrew texts to polyphony.  Like most geniuses,  he was criticized for this advance; perhaps the rabbis found the music to sensual.  

But last night we heard some of Rossi's secular music created for the Gonzaga court in Mantua--a madrigal entitled "Cor mio" passionately sung by Ms. Gould and involving some gorgeous melismatic singing--and a second entitled "Ohime, che tanto amate", sung by Ms. Frenkel and ending on the third note of the scale. Both were accompanied by Mr. Herreid's theorbo.

The influence of the ghetto on music by Venetian composers was even more notable.  In 17th c. Venice, there existed a melting pot of cultures with Jewish, Turkish and Armenian ghettos coexisting in a relatively liberal environment.  Just listen to the Middle-Eastern melodies in the music of Francesco Durante, particularly "Vergin tutto amor"--the phrygian mode seemingly snatched right out of a Hebrew prayer. Ms. Gould sang this with great depth of feeling and a wonderful trill at the end.

We are big fans of Barbara Strozzi, a singularly successful female composer of the time.  She was represented in yesterday's program by the sacred "Salve Regina" and the secular "Lagrime mie", a lover's lament.  Ms. Gould mastered the heavily decorated vocal line in the motet and brought out the Byzantine melody of the opening.  In the lengthy lament of a lover for his immured ladylove, Ms. Frenkel used a variety of dynamics and pacing to provide variety.

This seems to be our week to enjoy duets and we loved hearing Ms. Gould's and Ms. Frenkel's voices joined in harmony in Benedetto Marcello's "O immaculata" accompanied by all three instrumentalists. They also joined forces for the beautiful "Langue, geme" by Handel in which the sad opening stanza yields to a lively and joyful second one--a highlight of the recital.

The instrumentalists also had a chance to shine on their own with a Sonata di Basso by Grigorio Strozzi. We can find no evidence that he and Barbara were related by blood or marriage although their birthdates are rather close.

(c) meche kroop

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