Strings battle brass

11pm, Saturday, June 13, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory

In general the Saturday late night concert at BEMF features the
singers who’ve been singing together in the opera all week
singing lighter fare of the country associated with the opera —
german drinking songs if it was a German opera or bawdy catches if
it was an English one. This is usually arranged by Steven Stubbs,
who also conducts the opera.

This year, because they were doing three different operas and
the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, Steven Stubbs said someone else
should do the Saturday late night concert. So Robert Mealy, the
long-time concertmaster of the BEMF orchestra, set up a concert
with instrumentalists (and some dancers) performing two-choir
music of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. (It wasn’t all
originally written for two choirs, but since back they basically
thought that anything worth doing at all was worth doing twice,
having one choir do it the first time and the other do it the
second is a bargain-basement way of making it two choir music.)

The stage was set up with 4 strings (Robert Mealy and Julie
Andrijski, violin; Laura Jeppesen, viola; and David Morris, viola
da gamba and violoncello) on the audience left. There was a continuo group
(Peoebe Carrai, violoncello, who may have played with the string
group on some five-part music); Avi Stein, harpsichord; Charles
Weaver lute and guitar, and for somed pieces Danny Mallon on
percussion) in the middle. And the Dark Horse Consort (Kiri
Tollaksen and Alexandra Opsahl, cornetto; Greg Ingles, Eric
Schmalz and Mack Ramsey, trombones), mostly
playing brass, but once they did all pick up recorders,
was on audience left.

The program began with a set from the Venetian 2-choir
repertoire, by Giovanni Gabrielli, Giaches de Wert and Biaggio
Marini. As a recorder and early brass player, I would like to
tell you that the winds duelled the strings and won, but that
wouldn’t be true. I don’t think the brass did anything as
affecting as Robert Mealy’s tender solo in the Marini Balletto
Secondo in the entrance of the second theme.

This does not mean the Dark Hors Consort isn’t a good brass
consort. Robert Mealy probably knows who taught the teacher of
his teacher’s teacher. If he can’t go back to the sixteenth
century, it’s because we don’t have the records, not because the
tradition doesn’t go back that far. The two cornetto players both
learned from Bruce Dickey, who learned by reading treatises.
There is an advantage to having a long tradition of exciting
performance of your repertoire on your instrument.

The next set was from Northern Germany, by an english expatriot
whose friends probably called him Bill Brady when he was growing
up, but in Germany he worked a Wilhelm Brade. Particularly
interesting was the Paduana XVI, where instead of
strings playing against brass, the low strings played with the
high brass and vice versa.

Then there was the Holborne set, which had a bass drum giving a
funereal character to the Pavan: Spero, followed by
a sprightly Fairy-round.

Finally, 8 dancers entered, wearing costumes from the 2013 festival production
of Handel’s Almira. The music for this set was the little-known
country dance settings from Praetorius’
Terpsichore. The concert concluded with the
Volta, where the men lift the women high in the air,
and are rewarded by seeing (and possibly even feeling) “more than
the ankle”.

In spite of the late hour and the exertions of the preceding
week, this high energy concert left the audience feeling exhiliarated.

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