Archived Concert Reports

Siglo d'Oro

Music of 16th Century Spain

The star of this show was, without doubt the newly renovated Casavant organ (Casavant Opus #2795) which was played by Music Director, David Millard, interspersing the choral offerings. The tonal contrasts were amply demonstrated throughout the evening starting
with the bitter chocolate and oak cask voicing chosen by David for the Segundo Tento of Manuel Rodrigues Coelho. The "Cor Anglais + Tremulant" fairly represented one element of the sound palette that was available to Coelho in the cathedrals of Badajoz and Elvas. In the Primiero Tento that "oaken cask" was infused with honey, and shot through with silver - a wonderful sound.

The first half of the concert from a choral point of view was stricly devotional in nature, sung in Latin. Barry Yamanouchi accompanied the choir on the organ (no trombones being present) for the two "Regina Caeli" renderings by Cristobal Morales. Here. on a more down to earth level the organ resembles a high end recreational vehicle, making use of CCTV rather than a rear view mirror. Since the organ console rolls out on its own platform one presumes the accompanist could see the conductor without looking through an electronic glass darkly.

The sopranos and altos formed the fulcrum about which the first half of the concert turned by singing Gózate, Virgen Sagrada - a Christmas Carol by Anon of the 16th Century. The photo above was taken at the dress rehearsal performed for a small audience at the choir's rehearsal venue, Fairview Baptist Church.

After the intermission everyone let their hair down a bit as the language moved to the 16th century Catalan vernacular and Peter Zaenker on guitar and Martin Fisk, percussion, came out to put a "wow" in the vocal proceedings. First up was a "scherzo and trio" presentation of two Dindirins bracketing a ¿Con qué la lavaré?. Linguistically and semantically this conjunction was a bit of a stretch, but musically it displayed a certain logic. There followed the Encina Todos los Bienes in which the loss upon death of all but fame and glory was heartily lamented, with instrumental accompaniment. The Guerrero madrigal quintet En Tanto que de Rosa then unaccountably went AWOL, to the evident disappointment of an attentive audience, but David's intro to his next organ choice cheered them up.

Las Folías is one of those haunting almost universal ground bass themes that has been elaborated and variegated upon by many composers down the ages; David pointed out that even Beethoven used it several times including in the slow movement of the Fifth Symphony. Remarkably this hidden use of the ancient theme was not remarked upon in the musicological world until the 1980's. For a most extensive catalogue of the uses of this "ground" go to the website La Folia, a Musical Cathedral. This site was started in 1997 and is still being updated as new works are composed or old works discovered. It is chock full of MIDI's and MP3's and links to commercial recordings, all being illustrative of the pervasiveness of this simple 16 (or 8?) bar theme. Here was a golden opportunity, amply seized by Millard to present many of the different sonorities conjurable from the fine Casavant instrument, as he worked through the sixteen variations.

Juan del Encina made another appearance with the men of the choir who sang "Triste España, sin ventura," a slightly overwrought lament for a dead prince. Things brightened considerably with the guitar and percussion assisted Christmas Carol of Joan Cererols' "Serafin" (Ye Seraphs!) Peter Zaenker then presented two Pavanes by Luis de Milán, and beautifully played they were too! Pavane #6 conveniently ended in the key of C, leading into the final "La Chacona" of Joan Arañés which was so enthusiastically strummed, drummed and sung that the choir decided to do it again for an "encore," - which the audience accepted gracefully!

- Alan Ryder

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