In performance: Choral Arts Society
Choral Arts Society seeks Schütz
by Cecelia Porter
The Choral Arts Society Chamber Choir, conducted by Norman Scribner, gave a commendable concert Saturday as part of the Dumbarton series. The program focused on music reaching from the suave textures of traditional Renaissance style into the more urgent, even flashy temperament of an early baroque funeral mass by Heinrich Schütz, music director of the powerful Dresden court.
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His "Musikalische Exequien" abruptly shifts in textures, voicing a new and broader range of expression -- virtually a borderline sacred opera based on the ever-changing emotions of individual words. The chorus captured just that sense of drama with fervency and polish as it shifted among German hymn, motet and double choir styles, although the singers often succumbed to a German text colored with American vowels and slurred consonants, especially at word endings. Schütz also gave an active role to the vocal soloists, some sounding more finished than others. A typical baroque basso continuo combination of organ and double bass provided able accompaniment.
For the first half of the evening, the choir gave superb accounts of unaccompanied Renaissance motets by leading composers of the era: Josquin des Pres, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Tomas Luis de Victoria and William Byrd. Most of these works tend to speak the same musical language of fluidity and interweaving contrapuntal lines, but each one is tempered by the composer's personal dialect. The singers wove their way through this music with smoothly coordinated entrances, fine intonation and obvious conviction.
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