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The Concert Singers of Cary Chamber Choir were joined by exceptional soloists and a Baroque Period String Ensemble of local musicians, all under the direction of Lawrence Speakman (now in his 21st year as master conductor the Concert Singers) for a delightful program of Vesper pieces composed in the Italian Concertante style of the early half of the 18th century. The concert was presented in the still “new” Cary Arts Center, the beautifully renovated former Cary High School. The vocal soloists were Patricia Phillips and Elizabeth Terry, sopranos, Jennifer Myers and Sarah Love Taylor, altos, Wade Henderson and Joseph Itoop, tenors and Lewis Moore and Lawrence Speakman, basses; all well known to Triangle area audiences and all together forming the Cary Choral Artists serving the Concert Singers in a variety of ways: singing in small ensembles, as section leaders in the choirs, and as soloists.
We were introduced to the Italian style with Francesco Scarlatti’s Miserere (Psalm 51) dating from 1717. The younger brother of Alessandro and uncle of Domenico, he never achieved anything like the acclaim of his illustrious relatives. Never-the-less, he was an accomplished composer, gifted in expressive melody, creative harmony and clever counterpoint. Sadly, he died in Dublin, in debt and obscurity. The Miserere, one of only four surviving vocal works, reflects the dramatic elements of an opera composer. The twelve brief sections of the Psalm provide variety and contrast of musical texture, ensemble and tempi. The performance was by five of the Cary Choral Artists along with strings and continuo by Portative Organ and Archlute. The performance was stylish, lively and winsome.
Next on the program, Barbara Krumdieck, cello, Robbie Link, viola da gamba, and Dan Smith, archlute, performed an instrumental aria from Sonata 2 by Michel Corrette (1707 –1795). He was a French organist, composer and author of musical method books. The Aria was a simple and delightful ballad-like tune and was a joy to hear.
Closing the first half of the concert was J.S. Bach’s Motet, Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, S. 225. Though Bach never traveled more than a couple hundred miles from his birthplace, he studied music from all over Europe and integrated a great variety of national styles into his own unique mastery of form and counterpoint. Singet dem Herrn is based on two Psalms and a Lutheran hymn, and was the only piece on tonight’s program not sung in Latin. The German text with its syllabic insistence and strong rather than soft vowels provided a striking contrast to ecclesiastical Latin. The style is clearly Italianate, reflecting the double choir technique of the Gabrielis in Venice, but the sound is quite different. It was sung by a double quartet – one voice to a part, somewhat unusual in contemporary performances, but probably the resource Bach had available to him as Cantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The accompaniment was by continuo only using cello and portative organ. Again this was the likely resource at St. Thomas.
The first movement, based on Psalm 149 is a dramatic and powerful interchange between the two choirs. The second movement is based on a gentle Lutheran chorale. The third movement is based on verses from Psalm 150 and begins as another masterful dialogue between the two choirs of singers, but has them joining as one choir for the closing fugue. The fourth movement, “Lobet den Herrn” (Praise the Lord) is a powerful and rollicking demonstration of Bach’s exquisite counterpoint. This motet requires a high degree of virtuosity from the singers and the Cary Choral Artists met the demands of the music and left many in the audience just about breathless.
After intermission, the second half of the concert consisted of Handel’s Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110). After early music training, much against his father’s wishes, and writing a couple of operas in Halle, Handel traveled to Italy to study the world popular styles of the day. While in Rome he composed sacred music for the clergy and it was in 1707 that his highly acclaimed Dixit Dominus was composed. The performance by the Concert Singer of Cary Chamber Choir with soloists from the Cary Choral Artists along with the Baroque Ensemble fairly sparkled and soared taking full advantage of the 22 year old Handel’s mastery of the Italian Baroque style. The meaning of the Latin text is underscored with numerous word painting techniques which were realized to full effect by the singers and orchestra under Speakman’s knowledgeable leadership.
Especially impressive was the contrasting crisp articulation against the sustained and soaring passages. The opening was powerful, the soloists were focused and effective and the closing Gloria Patri was a true tour de force. One can see why the young Handel would soon gain international fame and produce even more astonishing works in his career to come. Also one could hear tonight why the artists involved in this performance are to be heard with pleasure and satisfaction for years to come.