Kerry McCarthy

Tallis Scholars: perfect storm of singing

Renowned English choir’s Portland performance declares high ‘C’ –son for Sistine Chapel music 

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

The Tallis Scholars are never going to disappoint, especially in an early-music-loving city like Portland. At St. Mary’s Cathedral this past Sunday, the pews were filled and the renaissance polyphony floated above.

Established 46 years ago and still conducted by founder Peter Phillips, the esteemed English vocal ensemble delivered a brilliant program in all respects: use of the space and of the singers, and choice of literature, with a focus on music of the Sistine Chapel in the high Renaissance. The afternoon was a revelation in capturing an audience’s mind.

The Tallis Scholars sang at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

As described by Portland singer and Renaissance music scholar Dr. Kerry McCarthy, whose exemplary skills in academic engagement were evident in the pre-concert lecture, “international” was a key word in the Sistine Chapel choir. During this period (c. 1575 – 1600), the loft was chock full of singers from Spain, France and of course Italy. This theme was mirrored in the Tallis Scholars’ program, which included music from Spain (Morales), Burgundy (des Prez) and France (Carpentras).

Peter Phillips cleverly programmed a composite Palestrina Mass, interweaving five sections of the ordinary from five different Mass settings by the great Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. These served as linchpins, pulling us back each time to what we perceive as the classic Sistine Chapel polyphony. These were my favorites, especially the Kyrie Missa Assumpta est Maria (God has Assumed the Virgin Mary to the Heavens) and the “Credo,” from the Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass in Honor of Pope Marcellus).

Another attraction of this concert was the way in which Mr. Phillips deployed his forces, using almost as many formations as the Dallas Cowboys. With a base of 10 singers, the choir reduced to only four in Quam pulchra es (How Beautiful and Fair) of Italian composer Costanzo Festa, then expanded to six singers for Lamentations by French composer Elzea Genet Carpentras, and the aforementioned “Credo”.

This fourth Sunday in Lent was normally a day to relax a bit from the rigors of the Lenten season, but the Tallis Scholars’ singers’ schedule offered little respite. Finishing up a six-in-a-row US concert jaunt, they performed in Seattle on the previous night, vanned to Portland and began to tune at St. Mary’s Cathedral late Sunday morning. Somewhere in there they probably caught a few winks.

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Cappella Romana review: drones, overtones and unknowns

Portland vocal ensemble's 'Venice in the East' concert offered splendid singing and rare repertoire -- but needed more variety

by BRUCE BROWNE

Choral music is as much poetry and word recognition as it is melody, harmony and the sonic elements of the human voice. We listeners engage in both spheres, sometimes aware of the relationship, sometimes just focusing on one aspect, then the other. Amidst musical perfection, the total engagement was missing last weekend at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cappella Romana’s concert, Venice in the East.

Cappella Romana performed ‘Venice in the East’ at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Present were exquisite moments of choral artistry, impeccable tuning, bravura singing by all and thoughtful phrasing, especially by Michael John Boyer and Mark Powell, who together stood at the pinnacle of the solo work, especially many of the delicious priestly intonations. And, Dr. Lingas (who often multitasked in a singing role) and some of the singers, such as Boyer and tenor Spyridon Antonopoulos (a welcome new tenor voice) certainly displayed emotional engagement, encouraging the listener to join in at that level.

But except for the historically fascinating “Christ is Risen” from the Codex Faenza 117, which wove Greek and Latin traditions in music and language, and three other Latin selections from Liber sacerdotalis, the texts were all Greek – to me, inaccessible. More on this shortly.

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William Byrd Festival preview: auspicious anniversary

As the summer Renaissance music festival celebrates its 20th edition, it continues to expand its scope and audience

Most people know the greatest writer of England’s Renaissance — Shakespeare, of course — but far fewer can name the greatest composer of that time and place. One Portlander who knows all about William Byrd and reveres his music’s artistry and spirituality is Dean Applegate, founder of Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia. “It’s very spiritually powerful music because of Byrd’s ability to perfectly set the sacred text — word painting,” he says. Considered among the finest of all Renaissance sacred music, it also fit Cantores’ voices perfectly.

Byrd Festival founders Dean Applegate and the late Richard Marlow, at an early planning session.

So in 1998, Applegate decided to put on a couple of concerts featuring Byrd’s “calm, deliberate, gorgeously dense” (in the words of former Oregonian classical music writer David Stabler) music. Consulting pre-eminent Byrd scholar Philip Brett for advice, he enlisted as conductor Richard Marlow, a famous choral conductor from England’s Trinity College, who’d earlier guest-directed Cantores in Ecclesia. Over two days, Cantores and Renaissance music fans imbibed all three of Byrd’s magnificent masses and other sacred music, a guest lecture by Byrd expert and Stanford professor William Mahrt, and the wine at the post-concert reception. They enjoyed it so much that Applegate and Marlow decided to do it again the following summer.

“I was just drawn to Byrd’s music, and because there’s so much of it, it just made sense to do a festival,” in which they could eventually sing all of it, Applegate says. They’ve repeated and expanded the William Byrd Festival each summer since. “I can’t imagine August without the Byrd Festival,” says Portland singer and Byrd scholar Kerry McCarthy, who joined Cantores while a student at Reed College and wrote the first concert’s program notes.

Mark Williams directs Cantores in Ecclesia at the William Byrd Festival.

On Friday, the twentieth edition of the festival opens with a concert of Byrd’s secular music, the first of a dozen events culminating in Cantores’s big closing choral concert August 27.

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Portland Opera and The Ensemble reviews: Sacred and secular Venice

Two programs show very different sides of 17th century Italian music

by TERRY ROSS

Patrick McDonough’s vocal group The Ensemble has proven, in more than a dozen concerts over the past several years, that it is an invaluable part of musical life in the Northwest. By itself and in collaboration with other groups vocal and instrumental, it invariably presents concerts that not only offer familiar music of the 18th and earlier centuries but also bring the names of unjustly forgotten composers to our attention. Its latest series of concerts, on January 20-22 in Tacoma, Eugene, and Portland, illustrate this mission brilliantly.

In a program called Venetian Vespers: Vespers for Saint Agnes — Virgin & Martyr, The Ensemble teamed up with singers from Anne Lyman’s Tacoma group Canonici and Hideki Yamaya’s Portland instrumental ensemble Musica Maestrale to present an elaborate Vespers service in concert without intermission, consisting of Gregorian chant, expertly sung by alto Kerry McCarthy, and large and small motets for from one to ten singers.

The Ensemble and friends performed the Venetian Vespers program in Eugene, Portland, and Vancouver.

The composers represented ranged from the famous (Claudio Monteverdi, 1567-1643) and less famous (Alessandro Grandi, 1586-1630) to the relatively obscure (Dario Castello, c.1590-c.1658) to the virtually unknown (Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, 1602-1678), with special emphasis given to Cozzolani. She had four substantial pieces on the program, all of them featuring homophony (all voices singing together) and antiphony (voices separated into two choirs doing call and response), and her music was the surprise of the evening because it was so accomplished and unknown.

Turns out she was one of the nuns, in fact the abbess, of a convent that was famous for its musicians in the middle of the 17th century. A contemporary writer found that “the nuns of Santa Radegonda of Milan are gifted with such rare and exquisite talents in music that they are acknowledged to be the best singers of Italy. They wear the Cassinese habits of St. Benedict, but they seem to any listener to be white and melodious swans, who fill hearts with wonder, and spirit away tongues in their praise. Among these sisters, Donna Chiara Margarita Cozzolani merits the highest praise, Chiara in name but even more so in merit, and Margarita for her unusual and excellent nobility of invention.”

Although I had never heard or heard of Cozzolani before this concert, I couldn’t agree more. Her music deserves to be performed as frequently as that of other 17th-century masters.

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Concert review: In Mulieribus

Portland vocal ensemble's veteran teamwork produces winning Byrd songs.

In Mulieribus

In Mulieribus

by  BRUCE BROWNE

Teams that retain their players over several years are more likely to play better together. Witness the Amadeus String Quartet, a unit for 40 years, or in sports, Miami Heat/San Antonio Spurs. It is this, among other things, that makes In Mulieribus who they are: a constant in tuning, blend, and balance. The women think one another’s musical thoughts, hear their sisters’ voices almost before a musical utterance. They catch every wave together. In this case, familiarity breeds content.

On Sunday at southeast Portland’s St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, the premier women’s group, founded a decade ago by director Anna Song and former member Tuesday Rupp, offered a concert of music by English Renaissance composer William Byrd and two contemporaries: Peter (Petrus) Philips, and Richard Dering. This time around, we were also treated to guest director Kerry McCarthy, who is a published authority on Byrd. Her work with IM was, according to one member, collaborative, and joyous.

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