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Early Music, Vocal Ensemble Review Print

Splendorous Seasonal Sounds

December 2, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:

Our area's stellar Renaissance a cappella vocal group, Fortuna, directed by Patricia Petersen, has decided to disband at the end of this, its 20th, year. CVNC will post a feature article about the group next spring. Fortuna gave the first of its three-performance cycle of this year's holiday offering at Raleigh's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on December 2 at 8:00 p.m. Both of the final concerts are retrospectives of the group's favorites from past recitals. This one was entitled "Renaissance Music from Many Lands: A Christmas retrospective from 20 years of singing" and was offered without intermission.

Works were arranged by country of origin, although not necessarily the country of origin of their composers. The sprightly opener was Jean Mouton's "Noe, psallite noe." It segued into a beautiful setting of the "Ave Maria" by Josquin des Prez, arguably the most illustrious of all French composers of the time, which featured the lovely melodies and gorgeous harmonies that echo, resound, and bathe the listener in glorious sound, for which this music is noted. To wrap up the Burgundy and France section, this was followed by Guillaume Dufay's "Imperatrix angelorum," Loyset Compère's "O genitrix gloriosa," and Antoine Brumel's lively "Noe, noe, noe," some of whose notes resonated like imitations of church bells.

We moved north to the Low Countries next with Jacob Obrecht's "Beata es Maria" and Jacob Clemens non Papa's "Inclita stirps Jesse." We then crossed the Channel to hear a contrasting pair of English works: John Taverner's "Laetentur coeli" and William Byrd's "Hodie Chistus natus est." Italy was our next stop for "Laetentur caeli" by Franco-Flemish Orlando di Lasso (or Lassus, probably the most famous composer of his generation) and "Christe redemptor omnium" by Philippe Verdelot (also French), an especially lovely work with its alternation between monophonic chant in various voices and polyphony from verse to verse.

Next we went over the Alps to Germany for the short but impressive "Hosianna dem Sohne Davids" by that most prolific composer of all of the time, Anonymous, and Johann Walter's attractive arrangement of "Joseph lieber, Joseph mein," both in the vernacular rather than in Latin, it will be noted, in this post Reformation time.

From there we leapt to the Iberian Peninsula for Cristobal de Morales' ethereal "O magnum mysterium," Estêvão Lopes Morago's "Gaudete cum laetitia," and Juan Esquivel Barahona's "Veni Domine." Finally, we crossed the Atlantic in the footsteps of missionaries to hear Gaspar Fernándes' "Tleycan timochoquilia," which features an interesting syncopation-like rhythm, and Gerónimo González' "Serenissima una noche." Both are in strange mixtures of Latin and the vernacular of Native Latin American tribes, and both are delightful villancicos rather than straightforward hymns or motets. Like the German examples, these incorporated folk elements. The times they were a-changin'.

The Anonymous German "Hosianna..." was offered as an encore in response to the sizable audience's enthusiastic applause.

The attentive reader will notice that the composer list reads like a Who's Who of Renaissance vocal music and that only one work was offered for each. S/He will also note that no text was repeated. This represents a typical illustration of the kind of programming for which Petersen is noted. Another feature which the program notes (of the group's customary exemplary kind) pointed out, and which Petersen reinforced, and which the attentive ear could easily pick up on, was that the Latin pronunciation varied according to what would have been the case at the time in the country of origin of the music. Latin may have been the universal language, but not all peoples spoke it the same way. Petersen has spent a lot of time over the years researching this aspect of the music in order to make the performances as authentic as possible in the context of the current state of scholarship and knowledge.

The singing was as lovely as always. While every note may not have been pitch perfect nor every entrance precise and flawless, slip-ups were not easy to pick out nor did they stick out like sore thumbs. This is, after all, a group of amateurs who sing this music because they love it and want to share it with the listeners, many of whom are as loyal to the performances as are the performers. You will have two chances to hear this program if you were not in attendance on the 2nd (or to hear it again if you so desire): December 15 at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Durham and December 16 at The Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, both at 8:00 p.m. If you have never heard Fortuna, you owe it to yourself to do so while you can. There will be one last chance in the spring.