Sunday, January 15, 2017

Delightful (mostly) Four-Part A Cappella Singing at This Month’s Third Sunday Concert

This afternoon the Church of the Advent of Christ the King hosted this month’s installment in its Third Sunday Concerts series. The full title of the program was Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind: Medieval to Modern Seasonal Songs. It turned out, however, that “seasonal” applied to a relatively small fraction of the selections; and the program listing never mentioned that the primary title was that of one of the songs from William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, given a four-part setting written by the English composer R. J. S. Stevens in 1793.

Petty details aside, however, the concert was a delightful gathering of Schola Adventus members Jennifer Ashworth (soprano), Lauren Carley (alto), and James Monios (bass), joined by Schola Adventus alumnus and tenor, Kevin Baum. The subtitle of the program was accurate, since the repertoire reached back to “Candlemas Eve,” collected in the Oxford Book of Carols all the way up to a setting of the 23rd Psalm that Bobby McFerrin composed for his Voicestra. This latter was of particular interest, since McFerrin adapted the standard text in such a way that all references to the Divine involved feminine pronouns. On the other hand his musical approach was quite traditional, taking the basic structure of a psalm tone and fleshing it out with richer harmonies.

Along the way were French selections from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Johannes Ockeghem (born in Belgium but working in both courts and churches in France), Antoine Brumel, Jean l’Héritier, and Jacques Clément. Germany was represented primarily by Heinrich von Herzogenberg, who is usually dismissed as “a friend of Brahms” and definitely deserves more recognition in his own right. There was also a stunning account of “Silence and Music,” a setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams of a poem by Ursula Wood (who would later become his wife), rich with complex harmonies familiar to those who know this composer’s music, all handled as adeptly as one could have wished.

The program concluded with two hymns, the more outstanding of which was Alice Parker’s arrangement of the Shaker hymn “Come Away to the Skies.” The other hymn was Joseph Philbrick Webster’s “In the Sweet By-and-By.” The seasonal spirit returned for the encore, however, “The Old Year Now Away is Fled,” the “New Year’s” text set to the “Greensleeves” tune. The whole event lasted about an hour but both the selections and the style with which they were performed was too absorbing for mind to dwell on the passing of time.

No comments: