Thursday, March 21, 2019

Cantori New York - Farewell to Sorrow - 03/10/19

Conductor & Artistic Director: Mark Shapiro 
Michel Colombier: Emmanuel (arr. Gregory Harrington) 
Gregory Harrington: Violin 
Mark Shapiro: Piano 
Francis Poulenc: La blanche neige 
Francis Poulenc: Par une nuit nouvelle 
Donald Grantham: La canción desesperada
Nicolette Mvrolean: Soprano 
Thomas West: Baritone 
Gregory Harrington: Violin 
Francis Poulenc: Marie 
Francis Poulenc: Tous les droits 
Francis Poulenc: À peine défigurée 
Henry Purcell: Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day
Nicolette Mvrolean: Soprano 
Thomas West: Baritone 
Tomothy Piper: Organ
Francis Poulenc: Belle et ressemblante 
Francis Poulenc: Luire

As if a relentless feast of visual, musical and culinary arts in the D.C. area on Saturday had not been enough, I was back on the bus at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning because, of course, I had to pick the weekend during which we had to spring forward, and therefore lose a precious hour of sleep, for my quick jaunt. But it was all good, and we did make it back to the Big Apple with plenty of time to situate myself back home before heading back down to Chelsea this time to catch Cantori’s second and last concert of the weekend.
The Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles, a new performance venue for the busy choir, was a very nice surprise, with its bare but welcoming space and, most importantly, friendly acoustics. The program was an attractive mix of early and contemporary, as well as world-famous and more obscure, and had obviously attracted an impressive amount of people who quickly filled up the fairly large venue.

As if Cantori had decided to keep its loyal followers on their toes with a new programming twist, the concert unusually started with an instrumental piece for violin and piano, “Emmanuel” by wildly eclectic contemporary French composer Michel Colombier. Arranged and performed by special guest Gregory Harrington at the violin and Cantori’s artistic director Mark Shapiro at the piano, it immediately set an unequivocally lyrical tone for the rest of the afternoon.
After that engaging opening, we stayed in France but went slightly back in time for Francis Poulenc’s first two chansons du jour, “La blanche neige” et “Par une nuit nouvelle”, the other five numbers of Sept chansons being interspersed between the two larger works. Based on poetry by no less than Guillaume Apollinaire and Paul Éluard, short yet substantial, they can appear challenging at first listen, but turned out to be surprisingly accessible and delightfully inventive.
More poetry was on the way next, from Chili this time, with Pablo Neruda’s landmark collection 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair that had been set to music by Donald Grantham in 2005 with La canción desesperada. This richly textured and openly agonizing rumination on the end of a passionate love story featured the choir, two soloists and a violinist, and pretty much had everybody in the church ache in unison.
Baritone Thomas West distinguished himself with a beautiful burnished sound and crystal-clear pronunciation as the heart-broken poet while soprano Nicolette Mvrolean made the most of her naturally gorgeous and deeply expressive voice as his lost love. Not to be outdone, Cantori’s singers did not content themselves by fulfilling the narrative role of the Greek chorus, but also had plenty to say in their own intense way, while the Gregory Harrington's violin provided an additional emotional layer to the whole highly dramatic experience.
You would think that after the French imaginative nuggets and the Chilean-American extended brooding, the early music British composer Henry Purcell would come out a bit stiff, but obviously not from those singers. Even though I still cannot completely get past all the endless repetitions, I have to admit that the (thankfully) abridged Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day for choir, soloists and organ we got on Sunday afternoon was all but stiff. Based on a text by Irish clergyman and poet Nicholas Brady, it unfolded with irrepressible luminosity, with just a tab of organ-generated solemnity, and reminded us all of the priceless joys of music-making. Not a bad way to celebrate the patron saint of music, I'd say.

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