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29.6.06

Minter, Tempesta Enliven Dual Finales

Both the Washington Early Music Festival and the National Gallery of Art's concert season came to a close Sunday, with a bold and distinctive presentation of secular and religious vocal and instrumental works from countertenor (and local-boy-made-good) Drew Minter and principals of the Philadelphia-based ensemble Tempesta di Mare (Gwyn Brooks, recorder; Richard Stone, Lute; and Rosamond Morley, viola da gamba).

The music on offer was all Venetian, ranging from the late Renaissance to early Baroque arias by Caccini and Cavalli, arias even casual modern listeners would discern as 'operatic' in nature. This is a rather broad and diverse repertoire, ranging thematically from love and regret to regret-and-love (and faith, of course). Thankfully the players were fully up to the task of bringing out the individual identity of each piece. Mr. Minter quickly launched into Marchetto Cara's Non è tempo d'aspettare ("there is no time to wait") with urgency and focus and remained 'on' for most of the performance, taking appropriate rest stops where the instrumentalists shone: notably Ms. Roberts in Bassano's Divisions on Ancor che col partire, and Mr. Stone (on theorbo post-intermission) in Kapsberger's Toccata prima, really a fantasia for plucked instrument demanding both virtuosity and poetry (which it got).

TheorboA few high points would have to include Mr. Minter, self-accompanied on small harp, troubador-style in Se mai per maravaglia (anon), a poetic yet simple reflection on the crucifixion, and as accompanied by theorbo in Caccini's Amarilli, mia bella, navigating the florid proto-Baroque lines with precision and floating notes in the higest register to excellent effect; and Mr. Stone and Ms. Morley in Diego Ortiz's Recercada segunda with a nice Spanish snap.

Throughout the program the most salient feature of Minter's work was the fine integration of the highest 'countertenor' notes with a solid tenor, even upper-baritone register: experience no doubt counts here, and Minter is a veteran performer by now. This paid dividends in the closing Cavalli arias from La Calisto ("Lucidissima face") and Il Giasone ("Delizie contente").

Those who feel early music should be 'played straight' might think Ms. Roberts and Mr. Minter a bit too bold in their presentations, but with music so distant in time a strong case can be made for risk-taking over academic restraint. The music came alive, undisturbed even by one overhead cloudburst that had all eyes focused on the skylight. The one disappointment, as usual, was the West Garden Court acoustics, which Minter and Roberts could overcome with their robust instruments, but which did not serve Mr. Stone or Ms. Morley very well.

The performance was linked to a new NGA exhibit, Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting, but is equally well linked to The Poetry of Light: Venetian Drawings from the National Gallery of Art. A word to the wise: both exhibits will be around for several months--but why wait and risk forgetting? One visit is unlikely to be enough, anyway.

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