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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ARCHIVE  •  2013  •  SUN 16  •  MON 17  •  WED 19  •  FRI 21  •  SUN 23

Sherman Library & Gardens, Central Patio Room, 8 p.m.

Music in the Gardens I:
“Hearing Inner Voices”

Clifton Massey, countertenor
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin, viola d’amore
Jolianne von Einem, violin
Rob Diggins, violin, viola
Adriana Zoppo, viola, viola d’amore
Shirley Edith Hunt, violoncello
John Kevin Cooper, lute, guitar
Ian Pritchard, harpsichord

Festival Orchestra
Elizabeth Blumenstock, leader
 


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto per archi e cembalo, RV 112

Allegro
Andante


Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
Totus Amore Languens

Aria: Totus amore languens – Largo
Aria: Epulare
Recitativo: Quid hoc coelesti ardore
Arioso: Non mannae dulcedo – Allegro: Ite procul


Heinz Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704)
Three movements from the Partita VII
for two violas d’amore

Praeludium
Sarabande
Trezza


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 549

Aria: Widerstehe doch der Sünde
Recitativo: Der Art verruchter Sünden
Aria: Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel

Intermission


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Sonata a cinque, HWV 288

Andante
Adagio
Allegro


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Selections from Orlando, HWV 313

Recitativo: T’ubbidiró
Aria: Fammi combattere
Recitativo: Ah, stigie larve
Arioso: Vaghe pupille
Sinfonia from Act III
Recitativo: Già per la man
Aria: Gia l’ebro mio ciglio


Georg Muffat (1653-1704)
Passacaglia from Sonata V

Reception


Tonight’s program focuses on the “inner voices” between the soprano and bass, which are somewhat less well-heard in ensembles, as they do not enjoy the more obvious aural profile of the top and bottom voices. The alto focus is provided by our vocal soloist, countertenor Clifton Massey, and the tenor focus is provided by two violas d’amore, about which more in a moment.

Despite the word “tenor” contained in the word “countertenor,” the countertenor is a falsetto male voice generally occupying the mezzo-soprano and alto range. Baroque countertenors came in two varieties: normally endowed men singing in falsetto voice, and castrati, men castrated before their voices changed in order to preserve their small and “un-hormonalized” vocal chords. Castrati were much in demand during the heyday of High Baroque opera: at the peak of their popularity, they comprised some 70% of all opera singers. The cruel practice began to die out during the Classical era; the last castrato performed in Venice in 1824. From all accounts, it appears that the best castrati had remarkable technical and expressive powers, but that is true of any very talented and well-trained singer! The normal male falsetto can be a luxurious voice, combining power with tenderness, and richness.

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Those of you who attended our Sunday concerto program are now acquainted with a Vivaldi string sinfonia. We open our program tonight with another one; this one is called a concerto per archi e cembalo (concerto for strings and harpsichord), but really there is no discernible difference between a sinfonia per arch e cembalo and a concerto for the same. Many of these pieces are quite short, and this one is shorter than Sunday’s offering. While Sunday’s sinfonia was galant and quirky, this one is more typically High Baroque, featuring Vivaldi’s trademark rhythmic drive, small repeated figures, and well-defined contrasting sections. The second movement is notable for its mournful, chromatically descending, repeating bass line (a kissing cousin of the “Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas). The final Presto is notable for its brevity! BACK

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Alessandro Scarlatti composed over 600 cantatas, both secular and sacred, the vast majority of which have not had a hearing in centuries. Tonight’s cantata Totus amore languens is of the sacred variety, in which the soul longs for God with passionate intensity. Note particularly the rapturous, harmonically beguiling intertwined voices of the countertenor and violins in Non mannae dulcedo. BACK

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H einrich Ignaz Franz Biber, the greatest violin virtuoso of the 17th century, composed a set of seven partitas (a partita is a suite, or set of dances), the seventh of which is scored for two violas d’amore and continuo. Unlike the violin, the viola d’amore has no standard tuning, although a D minor arpeggio is often used. Typically, the composer of a piece for d’amore will indicate the tuning he recommends: if none is given, it is up to the player to determine what tuning will work best. The tone color of the d’amore is sweet and faintly nasal, often quite resonant, because of the tuning and the presence of sympathetic strings, those that are tuned but not bowed. The Praeludium is full of brief contrasting sections, the Sarabande luscious and grave, and the Trezza — a lively triple-meter dance — is rustic and short. BACK

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Bach’s Cantata No. 54, Widerstehe doch der Sünde (Stand fast against sin), is likely his first cantata for solo voice, composed during his years in Weimar. Written for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, it is a short in duration, consisting of just two arias with a recitative between, but mighty in effect.

The lesson for that Sunday was “the wages of sin is death,” certainly a severe and strong text, and Bach does not shrink from setting it emphatically. From the remarkable and startling opening harmony to the determined and powerful fugal final aria, the music is a splendid example of how music can reflect and enhance text. Notice the use of insistent repeated rhythms, which serve to reinforce the text exhorting the sinner to resist sin in the first aria, and the “disobedient” syncopated rhythms and sneaky descending chromatic lines in the highly imitative second aria, which depict the temptations of the Devil. BACK

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H andel wrote in almost every common Baroque form — solo sonatas, trio sonatas, cantatas, oratorios, operas, motets — but his solo concerto output was limited almost entirely to organ concertos, which he wrote for himself to play as entertainment during intermissions at oratorio concerts. He did compose quite a few splendid concerti grossi, which feature a small group of solo players set against the backdrop of a full orchestral tutti, one of which you will hear at our Festival Finale this Sunday. And then there is this Sonata a cinque, that is, a sonata in five parts: a standard string quartet of 2 violins, viola and cello, plus a violin line which has much more prominence than the other parts. This is about as close as Handel ever got to writing a violin concerto.

This sonata, while it has virtuosic and soloistic elements, more resembles a trio sonata with an added viola line than a concerto. As in a trio sonata, there is plenty of imitation between the two treble parts, and relatively limited solos. The last movement is the most concerto-like, with clear-cut distinctions between solo and tutti sections. The piece is perhaps disappointing to concerto-lovers when viewed as a concerto, but perfectly satisfying when considered as an enhanced trio sonata. In other words, don’t expect a dazzling solo concerto, and you will enjoy it for what it really is! BACK

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Handel’s Orlando is a member of a rather large class of operas upon which his phenomenal musical gifts were lavished far out of proportion to the quality of the plots. Our three arias, with their recitatives, paint a nearly complete psychological picture of the title character, a born warrior with no talent for love who has the misfortune to fall in love with an unavailable woman.

In his first recitative, he endeavors to assure the object of his affections, Angelica (who is only pretending to care), that he gives not a fig for the beautiful princess he has just rescued in a dramatic off-stage battle. He says that he is a fighter, not a lover, thereby undercutting his own suit, and then sings an aria praising his own valor. Things go increasingly poorly for him, and when he starts hallucinating by the end of Act II he sings Handel’s most glorious mad scene — spooky, eerie and pathetic. (You may notice another cousin of the bass line to Dido’s “Lament” in the pathetic bit.) The intermission fails to cure the hero, and in Act III, he murders Angelica’s lover Medoro and hurls Angelica into a cave. Suddenly profoundly tired, he imagines he has drunk the waters of Lethe, the Greek river of forgetfulness, sings the aria Gia l’ebro mio ciglio, and falls asleep. This is one of the most unusually scored arias in all of opera: countertenor, two violas d’amore, and pizzicato bass, the loveliest example of middle voices singing together imaginable.

For those who like to know how things come out, the magician Zoroaster puts Orlando into a healing sleep and brings Medoro back to life; Medoro and Angelica are reunited; and Orlando eschews love entirely to return to the hero business. Handelian opera — the preeminent escapist art form of its day. BACK

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W e close our program with a wonderful passacaglia by Georg Muffat. Many composers of the Baroque era employed four-part string groups — two violins, viola, and cello — but earlier in the era it was not unusual to employ an extra viola part, which enriches the texture. While many of the pieces so scored can be, and were, performed as trio sonatas by leaving out the violas altogether, we are delighted to be able to offer tonight the full original scoring.

A passacaglia is a kind of chaconne, or repeating bass line, with elaborate variations above. This passacaglia is part rondo as well, as the opening theme returns several times. In one masterly variation, Muffat manages to marry this recurring theme to a particularly jazzy rhythmic variation, to stunning effect. BACK

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock

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