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2012–2013 Series: “Art of the Prophets”

…colorful scoring and terrific Tempesta playing

“Did so little happen during that half century between Heinrich Schütz (who died in 1672) and J.S. Bach’s heyday in the 1720s? Tempesta di Mare is among a handful of baroque orchestras correcting that perception, so much that its weekend concerts (I heard Saturday night’s at the Arch Street Meeting House) hadn’t any widely known composers, though all were worth hearing. Compositional manners, so codified later on in Bach and Handel, were heard with provocative deviations in the cantata “Meine Freundin, du bist schön” by Johann Christoph Bach (an earlier relative of J.S. who lived from 1643 to 1703), in which a quartet of vocal soloists augmented Tempesta. The cantata doesn’t celebrate a wedding so much as portray it, getting off to a curious start with the bride and groom alternately calling each other “beloved,” “brother” and “sister” with a vocal interaction that feels explicitly sexual. Guests get sloppy drunk. But the piece’s centerpiece is a tour de force aria for the soprano bride: it’s an aria superimposed over a violin concerto in the form of a chaconne. Violinist Emlyn Ngai and soprano Laura Heimes were in excellent form. The concert was worth hearing if only for that. The rest of the program had particularly colorful scoring and terrific Tempesta playing in Concerto Pastorale by Johann Christoph Pez and wonderfully ornate singing from tenor Aaron Sheehan in “Jauchzet dem Herren alle Welt” by Nicolaus Bruhns. The one possibly great composer was Johann Rosenmüller, represented by the vocal work “O dives omnium bonarum dapum” that shows him looking back to the more vocally rhapsodic manner of Schütz. Few singers project such an ideal union of clean vocal line and discreet vibrato as contralto Jennifer Lane. Music of this era repays subsequent visits on YouTube if only because it goes down so easily that you can miss the subtleties. But don’t expect ever to hear Rosenmüller sung so well.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 11, 2012.


…feasters clinking mugs as they harmonized on booming German syllables

This was one of the happiest early music concerts I’ve attended. The concert opened with a rollicking outburst from tenor Aaron Sheehan, singing the opening lines of a setting of Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.” In the other sections, Sheehan ranged from the slow and heartfelt to a properly royal delivery of “enter into His courts with praise.” The program’s second vocal item introduced a major addition to Tempesta’s musical resources. The soloist, Jennifer Lane,  possesses the extra range and the distinctive timbre of the male alto. Her text was a passage from St. Augustine— “O Thou Who Givest All Good Gifts”— set by a composer, Johann Rosenmüller, who was born in 1619, the year after the Thirty Years War began. Lane’s voice colored it with one of the rarest and most distinctive sounds of Baroque music. The instrumental works on the menu were a suite and a “Concerto Pastorale” by two other composers with unfamiliar bylines: Phillip Heinrich Erlebach and Johann Christoph Pez. The Concerto Pastorale took its name from the presence of the recorders played by Gwyn Roberts and Tricia van Oers, but it included some fine suggestions of country fiddling by concertmaster Emlyn Ngai, along with a showy presto for the recorders. For the finale, Lane and Sheehan supported two early music veterans who were both in good voice— soprano Laura Heimes and bass David Newman. The text consisted of the wedding verses from the Song of Solomon, set to music by Johann Christoph Bach, a cousin of J.S. Bach’s father. It was clearly a cantata about sensual male-female attraction, and Heimes and Newman played it that way. Johann Christoph switched to Ecclesiastes for the last two verses, and Lane and Sheehan joined the principles in declaring that “it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink and to enjoy the good.” The words referred to wine, but there were moments when the music suggested a happy beer fest, with the feasters clinking mugs as they harmonized on booming German syllables.” Broad Street Review, December 11, 2012.


…an excellent concert and I feel privileged to have heard it

Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, has been filling a void in the musical repertoire for the last ten years. Their latest concert featured music in Germany from the time just before Bach. The directors, Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone, certainly deserve praise for bringing these all-too-rare works to life. I felt fortunate, almost like a child about to receive a gift. The performance consistently held my attention; watching the musicians interpret their parts heightened my awareness of the music. Each of the composers represented skillfully varied themes, textures, tempos, instrumentation, and styles and this made the concert just as interesting to me as any by composers whose names are more familiar. Nicolaus Bruhns set the biblical text, “Jauchzet dem Herren all Welt” for a tenor. Aaron Sheehan’s singing reflected the mood of the piece, alternately expressing joy, seriousness, and praise. Bruhns’s word painting was impressive. Sheehan’s voice, accuracy, and flexibility were well suited to the spun phrases and graciousness of this work. Philipp Heinrich Erlebach’s Ouverture III in C comes from a set of six suites, one of the rare surviving secular works of this composer, which pay homage to Jean-Baptiste Lully. Each of the traditional dances used different combinations of instruments and some virtuoso passages, allowing each of the musicians to show off their talent and extraordinary abilities. Watching each of them in turn was fascinating. The third work on the program, “O dives omnium bonarum dapum,” was by Johann Rosenmüller, born in 1619 and the youngest composer represented. The Latin text, sung by alto Jennifer Lane, is from St. Augustine. To me this work was the most unusual of those offered this evening. Johann Christoph Pez’s “Concerto Pastorale” was one of the most interesting, mostly because of the varying instrumental combinations. The last work was by Johann Christoph Bach (a cousin of J.S. Bach’s father), “Meine Freundin, du bist schön.” It is a dialogue between a bride and a groom with comments from guests. The soprano, Laura Heimes and the bass, David Newman made amusing gestures to evoke the couple, alternately happy and suffering from love. Then Lane and Sheehan joined in. Though the singing was captivating, I managed to admire the orchestration. At first, the music for the organ and theorbo was very serious, as if to describe love. The writing on the words “I am my beloved…” was most exquisite, very expressive. The feast music was lively and gay; the extraordinary writing for the violin possibly made it the most excited guest at the wedding. This was an excellent concert and I feel privileged to have heard it.” LocalArtsLive, December 11, 2012.

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