The Lane Series is winding down as the second semester winds down, but a striking Concert took place on Friday evening, April 24, at the Redstone Recital Hall. The name of the performers for the evening's music, the Bowed Piano Ensemble, was more mystifying and failed to cast light upon what was about to take place( we were assured that no piano had been harmed in the preparation of the concert).
Picture this scene: a single piano that is alone at the center of the stage; the keyboard is pointed upstage, its lid removed. Upon entering the hall, I noted that the area of the strings inside the piano seemed to be cluttered with packages of varying sizes. Beyond that, nothing was clear to the arriving audience.
All of the performers took assigned positions around the the piano, gazing intently into it; then at a signal, the music began.
The music, silken and satiny, wound its way into the air, needing time to perfume the air with sounds of endless melody. The highlight of the performance was by the soprano soloist, Victoria Hanson, a singular interpretive performer and the focus of poems by Lorca, La Guitarra. It was one of the subtlest combinations of words and music realized by a vocal artist; it was a pleasure to hear.
The principal conductor for the evening was Stephen Scott; he seemed to make things run smoothly. The ensemble merited sustained applause.
There is not enough room here to communicate the truly wondrous performance experience of a work, 400 years old this year, by one of the greatest composer of his time. The composer in question, Claudio Monteverdi, assembled music that was written for a vesper service that probably never took place exactly as he had planned-where he dedicated the work to the reigning Pope in the hope of being appointed to the papal court as composer in residence. The employment never came, but Monteverdi got one of comparable value in the Republic of Venice,where he stayed until his death 40 years later.
The work is a composite of styles, which range from the simplicity of chant to the massive double-choir composition that were the product of the location of choir lofts around the basilica. They also span the period of change from high Renaissance to the developing baroque movement. As a result, the ear is filled with glorious sound throughout the performance.
The acoustics of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington has differences with the Basilica of St. Mark, yet it shares the incredible acoustics that allow the sound free reign. The tempos used by William Metcalfe directing the chorus and Scott Metcalfe directing the orchestra took advantage of the acoustics of the church, and presented the music in all its splendor.
The choice they made to perform without intermission allowed the audience to experience the music in its fullest power. The music also built, thanks to their having ordered it judiciously, from strength to strength, culminating in the two motets: the glorious Ave Maria Stella, filled with grand polyphonic gestures that reflected relationship that existed between Venice and the Adriatic, and the great Venetian fleet that sailed the sea, making it a power to be reckoned with; and the joyous and dancing Lauda Jerusalem, that concluded the evening.
The soloists, all members of the Oriana Singers, handled their assignments with grace and attention to the melismatic character of their assignments. The instrumental ensemble was really perfect-in fact, when the instrumentalists had begun to play their first interpolated work, a Sonata a 4 by the Venetian composer Riccio, some members of the audience snapped to attention as they became aware especially of the recorders.
The chorus itself has never sung better-its attention to detail has always been notable, but this time they outdid themselves. The performers were as lively at the conclusion of the last psalm and as fresh vocally as they had been at the outset.
The Metcalfe family continues to share its musical vision with our community by giving us performances that aptly reflect their devotion both to the scholarliness of their undertakings as well as the emotional drive that informs performances of great music. The audience in turn reflects back to them their appreciation of all that they have done for the musical community in Vermont. And what they have accomplished is worthy of appreciation and thanks.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.