This season's Raleigh recital by our area's fine Medieval/Renaissance singing group, 16-voice Fortuna, in Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 6 was entitled "A Celebration of Psalms," and featured ten works, mostly in Latin, originally used both in liturgical and non-liturgical settings. They also gave the program in Chapel Hill on April 30 and in Durham on May 7.
There were settings of Psalms 6, 70, 97, 116 (2 different ones), 118, 122 (also 2 different ones), 127 and 150 [Vulgate numbering, for the King James add 1 for most, but some re-ordering also occurred in the early 17th century translation process]. Yet there was no duplication of text, because composers frequently set only portions of the individual psalm, especially the longer ones, in order to have suitable texts for and to accommodate the needs of the worship service or the event. Occasionally, separate sections of the same psalm were set by a composer as separate works. A few of the works presented were in several parts or segments, and some were motets.
There were Psalm settings by the usual suspects, Josquin Desprez, Heinrich Isaac, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Orlande de Lassus, and William Byrd. Listeners were also introduced to lesser known composers the Flemish Pierre de la Rue, the Swiss Ludwig Senfl, the Pole Waclaw z Szamotul, and the French Philippe Verdelot.
In order of presentation, we heard: Josquin's "Domine, ne in furore" (Ps. 6), Isaac's "Ad te levavi" (Ps. 122), de la Rue's "Laudate Dominum omnes gentes" (Ps. 116), Szamotul's "Alleluja, Chwalcie Pana" (Ps. 116), Palestrina's "Ad Dominum cum tribularer" (Ps. 122), Lassus' "Cantate Domino canticum novum" (Ps. 97), Josquin's "Memo este verbi tui" (Ps. 118), Verdelot's "In te Domine speravi" (Ps. 70), Senfl's "Beati omnes" (Ps. 127), and Byrd's "Laudibus in sanctis" (Ps. 150).
As always with Fortuna, the performance was outstanding. An acquaintance and fellow Hillyer chorister also present commented to me at intermission (after the Lassus) on the remarkable precision of the diction and the clarity of the tone, the quality of the individual parts and their mellifluous interweaving. These are simply standard fare for the singers, and regular attendees. It was interesting to witness how a first-timer was struck. Dynamics were excellently controlled and appropriate throughout, and resonated particularly well in this setting. There were a couple of tentative openings, ones where a seeming tendency to go flat weakened the launch of the piece, but recovery was quick. One singer was absent, and another had to duck out mid-way through the second half due to a persistent cough. Has our yo-yo weather taken its toll?
Some pieces incorporated interesting musical effects, a couple sounding bell-like in spots, others containing onomatopoetic musical devices; one had vocal accents imitating the cymbals mentioned in the text; all were nicely executed. The Szamotul "Alleluja" in Polish was especially lovely, and the Byrd "Laudibus in sanctis," a setting of the final Ps. 150, was a lively - and fitting - concluding number. As an encore, the audience of about 60 or 70 was treated to early American composer William Billings' "Now shall my hands" setting a text from Isaiah.
The printed program was, as is customary with this group, exemplary, providing the original language texts, mostly Vulgate Latin, except the Byrd setting in Latin elegiac verse and one in Polish, with credited English translations, mostly by Jaap Folmer, one of the singers. There were also scholarly program notes by Lisa Brown, another of the singers, in the form of a continuous text that gave background information on the type of music and its context, biographical information on the composers, and historical and musical information about the individual compositions.
Fortuna's performances are always free (possible as a result of donations), and presented in each of the Triangle's three cities. Connoisseurs of early music and good singing always look forward to their semi-annual occurrence. To be added to the post-card announcement mailing list for future performances, or to make a gift, contact co-founder and director Patricia Petersen at 919-683-9672 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are indeed fortunate to have Fortuna in our midst.