Early Music Ensemble casts spell with a Sunday-afternoon concert
One aspect of the baroque style is known as chiaroscuro, a word that refers to the intense interplay of light and dark in many baroque paintings.
So was it with Chico State’s Early Music Ensemble’s highly engaging Sunday-afternoon concert: black-clad performers set against a black-painted stage, dropping bits of light—soprano Daun Hayes’ beautifully rounded words and lutenist David Rogers’ pearl-like notes—into the space surrounding them.
Indeed, many of the lyrics Hayes sang were also filled with images of light set against the dark: fires, rivers of flame, glowing dawns, sun’s rays, stars, pearls, bits of gold.
Typical of this sort of intensity, an offshoot of the Catholic Counter Reformation’s attempts to separate itself from the austerity of Calvinism, was the opening work, “I Desire Jesus.” Here, the religious ecstasy sought by the singer approaches a sexual intensity much like that seen in Bernini’s contemporary sculpture, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.”
Hayes, who sings with a clear, almost boy-like voice and an appealingly warm demeanor, opened with a deliciously swelling note and then moved back and forth between quasi-recitatives and dance-like tunes decorated by accompanying flutists Kyle Wylie Pickett and Heidi Pintner.
This was followed by guest lutenist David Rogers playing a delicately introspective toccata by Giovanni Kapsperger, which segued into Dario Castello’s “Sonata No. 1,” featuring flutist Pintner playing at generally increasing speeds in a kind of florid Venetian style.
Next came four lovely songs, sung by Hayes and accompanied by Pinter, Rogers, and harpsichordist David Rothe (who planned the program and accompanied most of the works). Like the opening work, the songs, by Giulio Caccini, were rich in baroque passion: this time lovers’ passions for one another. The words of the fourth were typical; equating his beloved with the sensuously red amaryllis flower, the poet addresses her, saying, “Take this arrow of mine, open my breast, and you shall see written on my heart, ‘Amaryllis is my love.'”
Tunes like Caccini’s are more song-like (in the modern sense) and represent the popular folk-music elements that were working their way into composed music around 1700. I was surprised to notice that the first two of his songs, the joyful “Dalla porta d’oriente” and the melancholy “Vedrê'l mio sol,” are almost exactly the same as two similarly spirited songs in Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo. Either Monteverdi borrowed from Caccini, or (more likely) both went to the same source.
My own most memorable experience listening to a guitar comes from a springtime glide down the lower ski lift at Mount Baldy, near San Bernardino, about 40 years ago. It was an absolutely silent day save for a recording of guitar music scattering its notes from the top of the lift and down alongside me through the crystal-clear air. It was at that point that I realized that the beauty of much guitar music is less in its passion or melodiousness than in the sense it gives one of singular jewels being sent forth into the space around the performer.
This was very much the character of David Rogers’ chief solo work, Bach’s Lute Suite in G Minor. Rogers played a so-called “archlute,” a five-foot-long instrument consisting of a standard lute with an extended neck supporting eight or so bass strings tuned in a descending scale. It is the instrument seen in Watteau’s widely known painting, “The Concert.”
Less percussive than a guitar, Rogers’ archlute sprinkled beautifully modulated notes about the Taylor Concert Hall, sounds made especially rich by the bass notes that, as often happens in Bach, served as focal points for the work’s harmonic shifts.
And these were only some of the works from a pleasant Sunday afternoon—one even Watteau would have appreciated.