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Under reconstruction at Clarice Smith

reconstruction, photo by Josh Rothstein
Comments on the pulchritude of musicians -- everywhere but here at Ionarts, where we are not that shallow -- are out of place only when its over-emphasis reeks of crass crossover acts like Il Divo and, in the "early music" realm, the Mediaeval Baebes. As a result, one may be tempted to judge the ensemble known as reconstruction harshly, because they are billed as "fresh and sexy" women performing according to historically informed performance practices. A glance over their credentials, however, should put such prejudices to rest, as most of them have fine early music programs in their educational backgrounds. Judged only by the sounds of their Saturday evening concert at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center's Gildenhorn Recital Hall, reconstruction is a group with mostly serious intentions, a good if not stellar ensemble that happens to be fairly easy on the eyes.

From the earliest examples of women singing virtuosic, learned music, the visual appeal of the female performer has often been an asset. The daughters of Giulio Caccini, Francesca and Settimia, formed a Concerto delle donne with the Roman singer Vittoria Archilei. That group was modeled on a similar, but ultimately larger group of female singers in the employ of the Este family in Ferrara. There has even been wild musicological speculation that at least some of the duties performed by the women in Ferrara were sexual in nature. While one piece by Francesca Caccini made it into reconstruction's latest program, the best selections offered were by Henry Purcell and Claudio Monteverdi, and to a lesser degree Luigi Rossi.

The purported theme of this 60-minute program, performed without intermission, is Bedlam, Back, and Beyond: The Agony and Ecstasy of Love, but a number of the selections had at best a tenuous connection to the theme of insanity. Highlights included harpsichordist Holly Chatham's fine performance of a Frescobaldi toccata, and soprano Laura Heimes -- the ensemble's strongest voice -- in lovely renditions of Purcell's Sweeter than Roses and O Solitude. Two-voice selections like Monteverdi's Tornate, o cari baci and Purcell's Lost Is My Quiet Forever showed soprano Nell Snaidas and guest soprano Elizabeth Ronan-Silva in their best vocal light, mixing with another voice, usually Heimes. Joanna Blendulf provided good continuo support, with occasional virtuosic outings, on Baroque cello. Some of the sillier moments pleased the audience but are perhaps best left unmentioned. One may question why time was wasted on Chatham's jazzy three-part arrangement of Willie Nelson's Crazy (credited as Pazza by Guglielmo Figlio di Nel -- yuk, yuk), when not a single setting of the Folia, for example, was included.

Ionarts will be back at Clarice Smith this Friday (March 16, 8 pm), for the latest program offered by the Post-Classical Ensemble, combining Mahler's Der Abschied with works based on the Chinese poems that inspired it.


Anonymous said...

"Cutesy" was the word my wife used to describe why she very occasionally had to close her eyes to pay attention to the music.

I agree completely that the highest points were the gorgeous Purcell songs.


Charles T. Downey said...

Joel, thanks for the comment. Cutesy captures it very well, indeed.