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Baroque Christmas with the Folger Consort

Christmas Concerts at Ionarts:

Master Chorale, Candlelight Christmas Concert (December 22)

Suspicious Cheese Lords, National Gallery (December 20)

Family Christmas Concert, Choral Arts Society (December 20)

Opera Lafayette, La Maison Française (December 19)

Vienna Choir Boys, Strathmore (December 17)

Messiah, National Symphony and Washington Chorus (December 16)

Trio Mediæval, Kennedy Center (December 13)
Among the many worthwhile activities of the Folger Shakespeare Library here on Capitol Hill are the concerts given by the early music group of the Folger Consort. After their October concert, dedicated to the music of Heinrich Isaac and Josquin Desprez, the group continued this month with its next concert devoted to a pair of composers, Corelli and Charpentier. This theme worked very nicely with the timing of the concert in the Christmas season, and the program turned out to be one of the more interesting and beautiful Christmas concerts in Washington this year, and I have heard many of them, if not nearly all (Deo gratias).

Marc-Antoine Charpentier held his own quite well when paired with an earlier Italian composer -- Claudio Monteverdi, a composer whom I regard as the Beethoven of his age -- on Opera Lafayette's holiday concert last weekend (Opera Lafayette at La Maison Française, December 19). I am also an avid fan of the music of Arcangelo Corelli, if not to the same degree as Monteverdi, and this was a much more even match for Charpentier, but I still prefer not to have to make the choice between the two.

From Corelli, we heard two concerti grossi from his opus 6 collection, with a favoriti group of guest violinists Tim Haig and Risa Browder and cellist John Moran. The first of these concerti, which opened the concert, was troubled by intonation problems, most noticeably in the bass line. These were mostly ironed out by the end of the first half, the eighth concerto, the famous one "fatto per la notte de natale" (made for Christmas Eve). In both pieces, the lead violin playing of Tim Haig stood out for its accuracy, flair (in ornamentation, especially), and beauty. By contrast, in the fastest passages, the playing of cellist John Moran occasionally had a labored quality.

More on the Folger Consort:

Joan Reinthaler, Folger Consort (Washington Post, December 19)

Folger Consort, Isaac and Josquin (Ionarts, October 8)
Charpentier also wrote excellent instrumental music, but this program gave us only the suite of his arrangements of noëls, French Christmas carols, edited by renowned French Baroque specialist H. Wiley Hitchcock. These noël suites were actually quite common in Baroque France, and they point out the melocentric nature of French music. To this day, I think that the average French person would be able to sing many more traditional melodies than the average American person. At least some of these tunes that are still widely known go back to the Baroque period and beyond. One of the noëls set by Charpentier is Laissez paître vos bêtes, dating from at least as early as the 16th century. You may know it set to the words "Venez, divin Messie," or in English as in the Catholic hymnal, "O come, divine Messiah." It was a nice touch that the Folger Consort also performed four of the noëls arranged by Charpentier in the vocal form collected by publisher Christophe Ballard, as sung by the ever-present Rosa Lamoreaux.

There were also four vocal pieces on the program, beginning with excerpts from Charpentier's pastorale Sur la naissance de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ, H. 482. This performance showed Charpentier at his best, that is, as a dramatic composer, creating scenic chains like the madrigal series of late Monteverdi. Lamoreaux's ecstatic statements as the Christmas angel, in the air Nolite timere, pastores, were followed by the joyful Marche, an instrumental processional to accompany the shepherds to the manger. This was followed by the stately Salve puerile, the tender words of the shepherds greeting the baby on the straw.

Pieces by Giacomo Carissimi, Domenico Mazzocchi, and Antonia Bembo rounded out the program with some other styles. Rosa Lamoreaux, who is always a delight to hear and watch, mastered them all. Especially in Mazzocchi's A travestirsi, a sort of extended recitative with extensive runs and ornaments, the continuo playing of Webb Wiggins -- formerly of Baltimore, now of Oberlin -- stood out as sensitive, well timed, and tastefully realized. Bembo's solo cantata spirituale, Per il Natale: In braccio di Maria, opened up a rather interesting, particular feminine perspective on the life of the Virgin Mary. Its Italian text reads like the wanderings of Mary's mind as her newborn son lies in her arms, as she contemplates her own greatness and immediately banishes such thoughts as "vainglory." This performance was well executed -- with a few minor reservations -- and a true pleasure to hear, especially after so many much less daring Christmas concerts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can anyone please tell me where Tim Haig was visiting from??? He was with Tafelmusik in Toronto, Canada for some time and then just disappeared. If anyone knows, would you kindly email me at Cheers, Scott