Les Voix Baroques — The Song of Songs

The Monday evening concert was the typical BEMF
pickup group, that found some really good music. It was all loosely
related the the Song of Songs, including lots with
the bits that made the monks trying to honor their vow of
chastity think very hard about the relationship between Christ
and the Church. (“I sat down under the shadow of him I desire,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.”)

My two favorites were the lute and baroque guitar duet on an
aria from a Monteverdi opera, and the Purcell motet that closed
the concert.

What my friends and I argued about on the train back to Cambridge was whether
they didn’t sing an encore because:

  • They were a pickup group hadn’t bothered to think of one,
    or had the time to rehearse it if they had thought of it.
  • They’re already trying to figure out how they can possibly do as much
    music as they have left to do this week.
  • The ending Purcell
    was such a perfect ending number.

You can defend all those positions.

If it were my concert, I’d have done one of our drinking songs for an
encore. You really could hear in the motets from the Song of Songs that
these were the same people whe went to the pub later and sang our
Purcell’s and Sermisy’s.

The Globe review is here.
They picked different favorite pieces than I did, although they
also mentioned the lute-harp duet, and they rightly singled out
the singing of soprano Yulia Van Doren as particularly sumptuous.

Rant about Early Music singing for CD’s

I was again really irritated by the “female sopranos on top;
everything else sung by men” vocal forces. For people who can
sing opera, these singers sing ensemble really well, and in the
all-male numbers, there was a good ensemble sound. I can’t
imagine what the historical justification for singing church music
this way would be. I understand saying, “Church music wasn’t sung
by mixed choirs until the 19th century, so ensembles should be all
men or all women.” You can deal with the range of the parts
by either getting boy sopranos (which I’d like to hear more of),
or transposing up or down a fourth (if you can find the basses or
high sopranos).

But putting female opera singers on the top line with no voices
of anything like that timbre on the middle lines is doomed to
producing a really unbalanced sound. Which it did last night. I
think it’s equivalent to saying, “Beethoven was really frustrated
by the pianos of his day, so it’s more authentic to play his music
on a Steinway.” Easier to deal with changing the strings, maybe,
but certainly not more authentic. I love Beethoven on modern
pianos, but if I were taking people’s money for authenticity
(which BEMF does), I would get a fortepiano.

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