I Cantori proves that sometimes composers know best.
Thursday, May 25, 2000
Sal Ferrantelli may have erred in transferring solo (and duet) movements to his chorus. Of course, he saved his I Cantori di Carmel the cost of hiring soloists, but in doing so he also altered the designs of Dvorak and J.S. Bach. With this era''s fascination for 18th-century performance authenticity, messing with Bach is like messing with Mother Nature. And it''s only a matter of time before messing with Dvorak arouses the cognoscenti to similar scorn.
Both Bach''s Christ lag in Todesbanden and Dvorak''s Mass in D, Opus 86 were written for vocal soloists and chorus. Given the instrumental support in the Bach, and the organ obbligato (in its original version) of the Dvorak, one quickly recognizes that these are chamber works, needful of intimate presentation. Against the choral movements, the solos and duets capture that intimacy and impart emotion as only one or two voices can.
The issue was further complicated by a lack of crisp articulation that left many details in both works from seeing the light of day.
Perhaps it''s time for Ferrantelli to clean house. I Cantori has enjoyed a reputation of excellence. During last Saturday''s presentation at Carmel Mission, more than a few choristers were buried in their parts, rarely looking up for cues. Whatever the cause--a chorus too large or a loss of discipline--this performance was far short of I Cantori''s historic high water mark.
The charming Mass in D was published just ahead of Dvorak''s popular Symphony No. 8 in G, a decade after the better-known and more ambitious Stabat Mater. In fact, the mass is a fairly slight work plainly intended for modest resources. While it is not a difficult performance piece, it does carry many subtle touches which were simply lost in this reading. Nevertheless, the group brought up moments of rich sonority which they sustained even in passages that faded slowly to silence. For its energy and antiphonal effects, the brief Sanctus got genuinely exciting, leaving one of the evening''s most indelible imprints.
I Cantori''s tenor section is its smallest and, at exposed entrances (in the Et resurrexit for example) were often tentative and ragged. This affliction pestered the popular early Bach cantata as well, and not only in the tenors. Bach''s contrapuntal writing is never easy on community choruses, and one could only imagine the difficulties had Ferrantelli chosen one of the composer''s later works with even more complexity written in. The basses in the fifth verse, Here is the true Easter Lamb, were solid and commanding.
Handel''s coronation anthem, Let thy hand be strengthened (announced mistakenly in the program book by the words of its second phrase, Let thy right hand be exalted) proved an easy read. Rarely does Handel write difficult music for chorus, and here I Cantori sounded comfortable and assured.
But the best of show appeared to be the most difficult of all, Thomas Tomkins'' anthem When David heard that Absalom was slain. Published in 1622, it stands proudly as a masterpiece of the late English renaissance. In this era, after the Italians had moved aggressively forward into the Baroque, the students of William Byrd developed a fine emotional character, using dissonances resolving to consonances to achieve expressions of pain and grief. While this was choral singing reminiscent of I Cantori''s best, even here articulation of words, and therefore emotional expression, was often consumed by sonority.
Thornburgh/Blumenstock Duo Friday, 8pm. Carmel Bach Festival Bravissima 2000 series concludes with violin/harpsichord program of J.S. Bach. Church in the Forest, Forest Lake Road, Pebble Beach. $16. 624-2046.
Concert on the Lawn Monday, 10am-3pm. Monterey Bay Symphony offers concert ranging from classical to pops. Audiences are invited to attend the rehearsal beginning at 10am, bring a picnic and stay through the concert. Free. 656-2023.