Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cantori New York - Harp/Lark - 05/20/18

Artistic Director/Conductor: Mark Shapiro 
Francisco Valls: Tota pulchra es 
Francisco Valls: Credidi propter quod locutus sum 
Francisco Valls: Laudate Dominum omnes gentes 
Francisco Valls: Kyrie from Missa Regalis 
Ashley Jackson: Harp 
Leonard Bernstein: Choruses from The Lark 
Ilinca Kiss: Joan of Arc 
Nicholas Tamagna: Countertenor 
Daan Manneke: Psalmenrequiem 
Ashley Jackson: Harp 

Back in April I unfortunately had to miss Cantori New York’s spring concerts, which not only had an intriguing Russian program, but also marked the staunchly Manhattanite choir’s long-overdue debut in Brooklyn (Hey, it is not my fault if they scheduled their March concerts on the only April weekend I was out of town). And to add insult to injury, not only did they boldly cross the East River – After all, boldness is nothing new to them – but they also performed at the oh so cool National Sawdust, smack in hipster central, AKA Williamsburg.
So I made a point of penciling in their very last concert of the season, and not just because the Sunday afternoon performance would conveniently take place a few blocks from my apartment, in the attractive Saint Ignatius of Antioch Church, and would give me the opportunity to catch up with a couple of friends. Fact is, the exciting program was enough of an incentive to go with a couple of motets and a Kyrie by little-known Catalan Baroque composer Francisco Valls, choruses from a not so well-known piece by American icon Leonard Bernstein, and the US premiere of a requiem by not well-known enough contemporary Dutch composer Daan Manneke.

Francisco Valls’ short pieces opened the concert with some beautiful harmonies from Cantori’s singers and some ethereal sounds from Ashley Jackson’s harp. Unconventional, and consequently controversial, in their use of dissonance back in the early 18th century, those opulent gems shone nice and bright on Sunday afternoon.
This year is Bernstein’s centennial, and the man is rightfully being celebrated in countless events around town and beyond. Never to be outdone, Cantori decided to honor this giant of the New York music scene the best way they know how: by singing a neglected work of his. Never to be outsmarted, their artistic director Mark Shapiro had the brilliant idea to pick the French and Latin choruses Bernstein composed as incidental music for the play The Lark, which was Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of the original play by Jean Anouilh.
Young French heroine Joan of Arc is of course a timeless subject, and one that is in fact more relevant than ever in our days of heady female empowerment. It was therefore a real treat to discover such an appealing work about her. Going through her entire, admittedly short but definitely eventful, life in about 30 minutes was no mean feat, but one that Cantori and Co. accomplished with plenty of commitment and poise. Actress Ilinca Kiss was an articulate and engaging Joan, countertenor Nicholas Tamagna was remarkably powerful as soloist and accompanist, and the choir compellingly tied everything together in a vibrant performance of deftly combined old and new music.
Among the many different types of compositions out there, the requiem is one of my favorites, so I was very much looking forward to hearing Daan Manneke’s Psalmenrequiem. And it turned out to be as enthralling as I had hoped. Commissioned by Dutch musician and choral director Paul Hameleers in memory of his late son, the work follows the typical structure of a requiem, relying on medieval and Renaissance traditions, and then goes off and does its own fascinating thing.
It was hard not to think of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s œuvre as the choir’s singers were producing delicately pointillistic, seamlessly flowing and gloriously spiritual music in various spatial configurations, including a Kyrie in a horseshoe formation. Back with her harp, Ashley Jackson significantly contributed to the haunting quality of the piece, especially during her few minutes in the spotlight at the beginning of the Agnus Dei. And that's how Cantori concluded their season with a subtle yet memorable bang.