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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 2, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 44
Pacific Musicworks' exquisite Monteverdi concert both exciting and sublime
Arts & Entertainment
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Pacific Musicworks' exquisite Monteverdi concert both exciting and sublime

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

PACIFIC MUSICWORKS
MONTEVERDI MASTERWORKS
TRINITY LUTHERAN, LYNNWOOD
October 26


The sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood was a wonderful setting for Pacific MusicWorks's presentation of sacred music by the baroque master, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). The sanctuary's soaring nave, raked floor, and comfortable pews were particularly well-suited for sacred music, and allowed everyone in the audience to see and hear the musicians clearly. Thirteen performers - eight singers and five instrumentalists - filled the space with psalms, sacred sonnets, and sections of the mass that were simultaneously exciting and sublime.

Director Stephen Stubbs played the chitarrone - a six-foot tall bass lute - while leading his singers and an orchestra consisting of violins, harp, harpsichord and cello. For PMW regulars, the pleasure of hearing Tekla Cunningham's baroque violin and Henry Lebedinsky's baroque organ and harpsichord never fails to delight. Toma Iliev provided an exciting violin and Maxine Eilander the lovely harp, joined by David Morris on baroque cello and fantastic-looking lirone. I know 'lirone' doesn't mean 'lion' (it means 'lyre'), but every time I see this tawny-gold instrument with its unusual curlicue sides - like a lion's mane - I think of baroque representations of the lion of Venice.

A leonine lirone is an apt, if inaccurate, association since Venice was truly present in the evening's program. Monteverdi composed his sacred masterworks, 'Selve morale e spirituale' for the basilica of San Marco where he was the composer and choir director for thirty years. Anyone presenting these works must put together a program from the 37 individual pieces included in the collection, and Stephen Stubbs is just the scholar to do it. He balanced the program by selecting pieces that shifted the mood from the despair of a frustrated lover ashamed of earthly passions and the mourning of the Blessed Virgin for the fate of her child, through the promises of the psalms of David and the joy of the resurrection. The wonderful voices singing these pieces are trained for the special demands of baroque music. Danielle Sampson's ethereal soprano, Reginald Mobley's powerful counter-tenor, and Matthew TreviƱo's astounding basso were particular standouts, along with Ross Hauck's always nuanced and powerful tenor.

Each half of the program also treated the audience to lively orchestral sonatas - by Dario Castello and Marco Uccellini - in which the voices of the cello and the violins are so clear that you can almost hear the words in every note. I particularly enjoyed the back-and-forth between the two violins in Uccellini's 'Aria sopra la Bergamasca' based on a lively dance form. It captured the celebratory dimension of Venice (think Carnavale!) without diminishing the sacred and serious purpose of Monteverdi's choral music.

And what a great choir it was! The eight singers were divided between high and low voices - three sopranos and a counter-tenor over and against two tenors, a baritone and a bass. PMW turns to wonderful singer-specialists who are sought after internationally, but who come to Seattle on a regular basis to sing with this famous ensemble. I was particularly moved by the soprano duet 'Jubilet tota civitas' - a question and answer of rejoicing for martyr and healer, Saint Blaise - and by the paired 'Crucifixus' and 'Et resurrexit' - a quartet of solemn men proclaiming the death of Christ followed by an ecstatic soprano duet proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. The finale, 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' fused all the musical forces, vocal and orchestral, into a thrilling finale. And since the visual is an integral part of any live performance, I was very pleased that the three soprano women wore three different shades of blue, from sky blue with a cloud of shawl, to the navy blue of the ocean, to a pattern of lights and darks that evoked the earth. It was a beautiful embrace of the natural world within the formality of the music - and seemed very Venetian to at the same time. These are the kinds of celebratory touches that reinforce the elegance and thoughtfulness of PMW.

I hope Pacific MusicWorks will record this brilliant concert (a particularly well balanced selection of Monteverdi's 37 works from 'Selve morale e spirituale' compared to those you can hear on YouTube) so that more people will become familiar with this marvelous music. As the Christmas season approaches we look forward to, and are accustomed to hearing, the expected pleasures of Handel's Messiah, Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and a welcome array of classical music to rival the banalities of secular holiday songs. Monteverdi's masterworks offer another mosaic of sacred music to enrich a holiday season that, after all, originated with devotion of two millennia of Christians, but that includes all people who love the beauties and complexities of baroque sacred music.

And speaking of Christmas, don't miss Pacific MusicWork's upcoming concert 'Christmas in Rome' which will include Stradella's Cantata per il Santissimo Natale and Corelli's Christmas Concerto December 7th at Epiphany Parish and December 9th at Trinity Parish, both in Seattle. Just to give you opera-lovers a heads up - plan now to see PMW's production of Handel's Samson this coming May, 2019. Check it out at www.pacificmusicworks.org.

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