2K Bach: an evening of counterpoint at Rittenhouse Square
By biconews On 22 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Matt Sharp

2000 is a “Bach year:” this July marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Bach Festival of Philadelphia, however, is alive and well as it prepare to celebrate its 25th anniversary with the coming of the 2000-2001 season, and is now in the midst of a season of “2K Bach - Bach For a New Millennium.”

On Feb. 12, in the spacious, ornate sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity on 19th and Walnut, the Tallis Scholars delivered an a cappella program of lush 16th century counterpoint. The concert included an array of works by Bach predecessors Nicholas Gombert, Josquin des Pres, and Orlando de Lassus.

Founded in 1973, the Scholars comprise two sopranos, two altos, four tenors and two basses under the leadership of director Peter Phillips. They tour extensively, performing a cappella choral music from the Renaissance repertoire.

There was none of Bach on this program, but the master would not have been disappointed. The entire first half was dedicated to the Missa Philomena previa by Gombert (c1490-c1556). The work takes the form of a full-length Latin Mass from “Kyrie” to “Agnus Dei,” in five and finally

six parts, and is one of twelve Masses Gomberi wrote in his lifetime.

The work’s counterpoint - the combination of two or more musical lines - and polyphony are complex. Several of the sections begin with an opening line suggestive of a chant in one or two voices, onto which Gombert soon liberally layers imitative lines.

The second half opened with the Miserere Met by Josquin (c1440-1521). The substantial six-part work (the sixth having been added later by a member of Josquin ‘s choir) is a setting of a text beginning with “Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam misericodriam tuam” (“Have mercy upon me, 0 God, according to Thy great goodness”).

A chant-like section at the beginning uses only two parts at a time, which proceeds to a subdued fugal technique that uses much smaller harmonies than Gombert’s Missa. This allowed the individual sections to show off their ability to stand alone in turn, as they often interlocked two at a time.

Next followed Gombert’s six-part motet Musae Jovis, which includes the text “Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis (“The snares of death compassed me round about”). Gombert wrote this as lament over the death of Josquin. The counterpoint here is almost as dense as in the Missa, though the Musae Jovis is darker in tone and more unified in style.

Two pieces by de Lassus (1532-1594) were then performed: Lameniations III for Maundy Thursday and Veni in hortum meum. The Lamentations are in three parts, beginning with “O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite, et vitete, si est dolor sicut dolor meus!” (“0, all of you who pass by, attend and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow”).

The Veni is a more lighthearted work, with a text from the biblical book Song of Songs beginning, “I have come into my garden, my sister and bride, and have plucked my myrrh with my spices.”

Phillips leads minimally, indicating that the Scholars could carry themselves well without a director. They were flawlessly unified and well-blended despite the hardly ideal acoustics of the church. There did seem to be very subtle amplification to fill the large space, which impeded little on their sound, but favored the sopranos and made them a bit harsher.

He has a tendency to hold the last note of each piece, letting the last chord hang until it gently falls off. The effect is that the sound seems to somehow improve as the chord percolates through the air, until it feels as if it has gone through a tangible aging, and is the better for it.

The concert was a fine performance of a genre not often performed. Three concerts are left in the 1999-2000 Bach Festival: two programs of Bach concertos and trio sonatas on Feb. 25 and 26, and an organ recital on April 28.

Tickets for most events are $30, $25 and $20; tickets for the organ series are $15. Students receive a$5 discount. Visit www.libertynet.org/bach for more information.

About - Founded over 100 years ago we are the shared newspaper of Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. From campus happenings to global news, we've got you covered.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>