Nordic Voices fill the air at the Lane Series

Last Friday evening, Feb. 6, the Lane series brought us the Norwegian singing group called Nordic Voices in a program entitled Reges Terrae, the title of their first motet. On paper, their concert appeared on the short side they offered the audience ten selections. Despite at times the apparent brevity of their texts, the music itself filled up an evening with music that required intense listening, even their two encores, the one of which was a Norwegian folk song and the others sounded as if it were. The Renaissance composers whose music they chose are now with names that are not well known and seldom performed --Cristobal Morales (possibly the best known), Pierre de Manchicourt, Clemens non Papa and Guerrero. Their approach to Renaissance choral music was pitch-perfect in all the intonations, and a certain amount of liveliness in causing the lines back-and-forth. Sometimes they sang the melismata without any individuation of notes; sometimes they individuated the notes in a melismatic passage that made the passages sound as though one could hear the soft pads on a flute or clarinet in a similar instrumental passage. Usually I am aware of any strange pronunciations of the Latin, but Friday night either they did not engage in any strange pronunciations or I was so caught up in the sound and the projection of textual meaning that I did not notice what some other auditors thought they noticed, namely a Norwegian pronunciation of the Latin (there were a few typos in the Latin texts and one in the English translation -- my favorite was "...atque simper virgo" instead of "semper". Although the program was not directly attached to the Christmas season, in fact, the texts were those which one might very reasonably have expected to hear during that holiday season -- except for the setting for "Laudate Dominum" which was definitively an Easter text and one penitential prayer. Their execution of the Renaissance motets seemed layered to me, by which I mean is there was a change in dynamic level it seemed to go from part to part. I also was particularly pleased at being able to hear so clearly the rise and fall of inner voices whose prominence was directly linked to textual and melodic sources. The brilliance of final cadence of any one of these motets, when it finally came to rest in a major chord, was incomparable and I shall not attempt to compare it to anything. The one "chestnut" on the program could have been Francis Poulenc's setting of the text "O Magnum Mysterium", a setting that is always been close to my heart. It was especially gratifying to me to hear the subtlety of the harmonics so clearly that it reminded me that Poulenc wrote these motets at about the same time as he wrote his opera Dialogues of the Carmelites. Their clarity of pitches reminded me how many moments in the opera where the scoring for strings and woodwinds especially had that same uncanny and otherworldly effect. I am a devotee of new music and I was heartened when I saw the presence of two contemporary settings of ecclesiastical texts by Norwegian or Swedish composers. The setting of the Ave Maris Stella set the men's voices over against the women's voices, and it was particularly pleasing. For me, however, the great moment in the evening was Henrick Odegaards grand setting of the O Magnum Mysterium text. It began with the men using the techniques of the Tuva throat singers of Central Asia against a ground, they simultaneously sing one or two pitches octaves above the ground note; in effect, the ground is a chest tone, the upper notes are head tones. The women sometimes too engaged in this double- and triple-stopping with the voice, but they give us more of the text frequently than the male half of the sextet did. The effective it was exactly what it should be for that text: wonder, mystery, excitement, and, in the end, peace in the knowledge that although we are unworthy, the Savior has been born. The audience was deeply appreciative of the phenomenon that these figures represent. They listen to one another with the closeness that members of a string quartet might. They used tuning forks to give pitch, and sometimes it seemed that it passed almost by osmosis between them, the leaving some to wonder if having perfect pitch was a requirement for enrollment in the group. Whether it was or not, this is certainly the groups calling card, and they offer it to the audience with every expectation that they will be invited back -- which good fortune, may it be visited upon us... and soon. Briefly Noted
Weston has announced its summer season: Les Mis_bles, The Light in the Piazza, As You like It, and Doubt. In their OtherStages production, this year they will be doing a play called No Child. Looks interesting, as does their new series of staged readings... they also argue sponsoring a First Annual Artists' Retreat UVM will bring their third and final production of the season to the stage of the Royal Tyler Theatre starting Feb. 20. It's the story of the first woman who ever appeared on stage legally in England. Should be a fascinating show. Tickets available at 656-2094 Do you have news of something upcoming? Send it directly to me at nomade7997@msn.com and I'll be sure to see it.

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