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Christmas with Chantry

Albrecht Dürer, Sackbut playersIn a round-up of holiday concerts in Washington, I singled out two for special praise, including Saturday night's concert by Chantry and the Orchestra of the 17th Century, in the lovely church of St. Mary Mother of God in Chinatown. It is in the same category as the Folger Consort's Christmas concert (on the docket for a review this week) because of the repertory. No carols, no Messiah, no Nutcracker, and yet Christmas. Real Christmas, too, not commercial Christmas: Basilica di San Pietro Dies natalis Christi (Palestrina's motet and imitation Mass Hodie Christus natus est), and Venice transplanted to Lutheran Germany Weihnacht (Schütz's Christmas Oratorio). Obviously proud, conductor David Taylor gave an over-lengthy introduction to each half, all the more unnecessary because his comments largely reprised the extensive program notes.

You are right to expect a certain musicologist to have been elated solely by the program. The musical results in performance were unfortunately uneven, but important marks go to Taylor and his forces for again bringing music of great interest to Washington. For whatever reason, the group's normally pure intonation did not lock in as effortlessly as it has in previous concerts. Thinking that it may have been my position in the sanctuary -- on one of the side aisles with the singers split into two choirs -- I moved to the back of the center aisle at intermission. Adding the less than solid playing of the instrumentalists in the Schütz did not help the situation, nor did the greater distance in the room. All pistons did not seem to be firing properly, but everyone has off nights.

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, Chantry's Nativity-Themed Program Is Well Shepherded (Washington Post, December 18)
This motet and Mass derived from it are one of Palestrina's relatively rare forays into the Venetian polychoral style. The strange way that he divides the forces, with all the treble voices in the first choir, created a strange lacuna at the top of the second choir. The altos on the right side, who should dominate, were just overwhelmed by the other voices, and the sopranos on the treble-heavy left side clashed more than they meshed, including something that went temporarily wrong in the middle of the Gloria. The interpolation of movements from a keyboard tablature Mass by Claudio Merulo, played beautifully on the portative organ by Adam Pearl, was effective, liturgically appropriate, and lovely.

In the Schütz, the lengthy narrative recitatives seemed wooden as performed by tenor Scott Williamson, whose timbre was on the baritone side of the male voice. In alternation with the storyline are aria moments for various solos or combinations. Nice moments were offered by the four alto shepherds, with the best instrumental playing of the evening (from recorders), and the four bass/baritone high priests and scribes, accompanied by sackbuts. All in all, it was an enjoyable but not excellent evening of music.

Chantry's next concert (March 24, 8 pm) in St. Mary Mother of God, offers music for Holy Week in Renaissance Rome, by Allegri, Gesualdo, Lotti, Palestrina, and Lassus.

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