Monday, March 2, 2015

Hideki Yamaya talks in depth about the Romantic guitar and Musica Maestrale's third season

Hideki Yamaya
On February 18th I sat down to chat with Musica Maestrale's artistic director Hideki Yamaya about some of the unique and exciting programming still to come in the third season of the ensemble. As always, it was an informative and interesting conversation.

LW: I'm talking with Hideki Yamaya, artistic director, lutenist and jack-of-all-[plucked]-stringed instruments for the early music collective Musica Maestrale. We're talking about season 3! First though, how did last season go?

HY: That was such a long time ago I don't remember! (Laughing). No, I think it went really well. I think our third season is off to a good start--we've had two concerts, and the third one is coming up. And that's what I'd like to talk about.

LW: That's right...we're already on to the third concert. So tell us a little about concert three of season three.

HY: For this concert we are inviting back John Schneiderman, who is my former guitar and lute teacher and my current duet partner. We had him for our first season to do baroque lute and baroque mandolin duets, and this time we are doing 19th-century music. Guitar duets from Germany and Austria, on period instruments. [First Christian Church, Saturday March 7 @ 730 pm. Tickets available at the door or at www.musicamaestrale.org ]

LW: Excellent--I remember his performance well. He's a truly great guitarist. So who are we going to hear?

HY: We will have duets by Johann Kaspar Mertz, who was born in Bratislava, which makes him a Slovak composer, but his career was in Vienna.  He's not a household name, but guitarists would know him, as he's probably one of the better known guitar composers from the Romantic period. And then we will do a duet by Beethoven, of all people, because you need that big name to put on your marquee. It's an arrangement for two guitars of one of his piano sonatas. It was arranged by a contemporary of Beethoven; he was actually born in the same year (1770.) Ferdinando Carulli was his name. It's a really masterful arrangement that works extremely well on guitar.

LW. Excellent. It's funny; this sort of goes back to the conversation you and I were just having about who was doing what with the guitar, and when. So how does--I guess for a broader kind of question--how does the evolution of what was being done with classical guitar music fit in with the evolution of European art music into the Romantic period generally? Was it kind of it's own animal?

HY: Well the guitar is an instrument--it was maybe not the best vehicle for the Romantic movement. It was not--compared to, say, the piano--it was not really suited to these big gestures and extremes of dynamics. The guitar favors certain keys, it has limitations in volume. But it had its own path, and it wasn't independent of all these things that were happening to music in the period. The guitar was very much a salon instrument as opposed to a piano, which was suitable for the salon and the concert hall. That's not to say that the guitar didn't have it's place in the concert hall, but it was certainly geared more towards the salon, and the repertoire reflects that.

LW: Who would you say--for those who might not be as familiar with guitar composers--who would you say Mertz might remind us of?

HY: He's often compared to Chopin, and what Chopin did for the piano, Mertz--he certainly did a lot to expand the harmonic language that was available to the guitar, and he also wrote pieces that went to remote keys that weren't that common for the guitar.

LW: So it seems he was pushing the boundaries to some degree or other.

HY: He certainly was.

LW: And then we have good old Herr Beethoven.

HY: Yes.  Ferdinando Carulli was an Italian guitarist/composer who was working in Paris as that time. An exact contemporary [of Beethoven]...today he's really remembered more for his method and for his pedagogical works. So a lot of guitar students go through a lot of Carulli, get tired of him, and never play him again. And that's a big mistake, because he left these great concert works. This piece that we're playing is one of those. [Ed. Note: Piano Sonata #12 in Ab Maj, Op 26.]

LW: So that's interesting. This transcription wasn't something that was done a century-and-a-half after the fact. This was Beethoven's contemporary, who wanted to play Beethoven on his [Carulli's] own instrument.

HY: Exactly. Which is a testament to Beethoven's fame during his lifetime, to how great musicians of his era recognized his genius, and how beautiful his music was. We are also doing duets by Adam Darr, who John and I--we were taken by his duets.

LW: You recorded some of these, correct?

HY: We recorded a bunch of these duets...it's a double CD. I think I gave you a copy.

LW: Yes; it's a wonderful CD. I think you gave it to my for my birthday. A great present!

HY:  Adam Darr is a complete unknown. Most guitarists wouldn't even recognize his name. He left quite a hefty amount of music, and we particularly liked his duets. So we recorded a double CD of his duets. We released it through Profil, a German label, and we're trying to revive him as a guitar composer.*

LW: Well this is interesting because people who follow MM think of early music, so this is an interesting expansion.

HY: Yes.  My excuse is that we're still doing it all on period instruments...one of the instruments that John's going to play is a terz guitar. That is basically a guitar that's tuned up a minor third...it's in G. There are a lot of duets for terz and regular guitar.  And that's not a common thing nowadays. It's an instrument that I wouldn't say died out, but you dont see it very often.  And I will be playing a ten-string guitar for this concert. It's ten single-strung strings--six strings on the fingerboard like a regular guitar, and four floating bass strings, like a theorbo.  [The concert] is all played on period instruments. And this time around--no replicas. They are all from the 19th century.

LW: So how do you go about procuring a 150 or 120 year old instrument?

HY:  I go on eBay....

LW: Which is exactly what they did in the late 19th century.

HY: (Laughing) Exactly right. But I've done this a few times. I find instruments that are totally worthless as instruments in themselves. I see a lot of guitars with a neck that came off, or they are in pieces. But if it looks promising--if the quality of the wood looks good, or I look at the marquetry work--if it looks like it's good quality, then it's probably a good instrument that got left in the attic and it fell apart.

LW: So a good candidate for restoration is what you're looking for.

HY: Right. So then I'll buy that for...a hundred bucks. And then spend 1500 bucks getting it restored. It's a gamble...but it's worked out for me. I have a couple of instruments like that and they're very fine instruments.

LW: So now...the rest of the season?

Brandon Labadie
HY: The rest of the season.  So after the guitar duet program, in April we have a French baroque program. For that we're going to have oboe, violin, harpsichord and viola da gamba. On oboe is Brandon Labadie, violin Vicky Pich, viola da gamba Max Fuller, and for harpsichord we are bringing in Jonathan Oddie from Seattle. The music is going all be from the court of Louis XIV.

LW: Ah, the Sun King. Roi du Soleil.

HY: Yes. So that's going to be a fun program.

LW: So am I correct in guessing there might be some Lully?

HY: There might be. There's definitely going to be Couperin...the music selection process just started for that one so...stay tuned. And then in May we're going to do an American baroque program.  So Brandon discovered this book of music that was left by a club that got together and played every week to entertain  themselves. [Ed. Note: A group from colonial Annapolis, MD.] Amateur musicians who wrote down the music that they played. They were amateurs, so it's of varying quality.

LW: But it's authentic! It's the garage music of the day!

HY: Right! It's just people jamming, and leaving this music, and it's just...super fascinating. Brandon is taking the helm on that one...I'm not even going to play in that program. That's his baby.  But I'm still excited for that. It should be a fun program.

LW: I remember talking with him about that last fall... he was very excited. As was I.  Looking ahead to season four...is there anything you know so far, or any tidbits you can share?

HY: I have a few ideas that I'm throwing around in my head...laughing. We still want to do staged works...

LW: I know that's been a goal of yours for some time now.

HY: Right. And that is really contingent upon how much money we can raise. When we get into that, it starts costing real money. Aside from that, we've got a few ideas...but they're just ideas. I can't reveal them yet laughing.

LW: Not suitable for publication. Ruminations.

HY: Season Four...we're starting to get a pretty solid audience base.

LW: I've noticed that. There's been a subtle but increasing but...what do I want to say...sustaining. It's always hard for a new group....no matter the quality, which, just listing the names of the performers you've played with this year in addition to yourself...people know that these people know their early music, and can play their early music. So it's nice to see the base growing.

HY: Yes it really is. Thanks so much!

*ED Note: CDs mentioned in this interview, as well as others and more information, can be found at http://www.hyamaya.com/.



Sunday, March 1, 2015

EAR TRUMPET - Portland's new music calendar - March edition


Here is the listing of concerts for March in the Portland metro area that feature new music, as compiled by Bob Priest, composer, impresario, and Mr.MMM .

Concerts:

6 - Fri - 7:30 pm
MARYLHURST CHOIRS
"Sacred Concert II"
Duke Ellington
St. Anne's Chapel
marylhurst.edu/music

7 - Sat - 7:30 pm
THIRD ANGLE
"Made in Italy"
Berio, Dallapiccola, Nono & Sciarrino
Portland Art Museum
thirdangle.org

11 - Wed - Noon
SACK LUNCH CONCERT
"Modern Impressionism"
Lisa Ann Marsh - piano
The Old Church
oldchurch.com

<<< ET PICK >>>
13 - Fri - 8 pm
FEAR NO MUSIC
"Mr. Oong-Kah @ 75"
Louis Andriessen
Alberta Rose Theatre
fearnomusic.org

14 - Sat - 8 pm
CHARLEMAGNE PALESTINE
Videos & Discussion
Yale Union
yaleunion.org

15 - Sun - 7 pm
GOING BOLDLY IN LAKE OSWEGO
Britten, Messiaen,Takemitsu & Woody
L.O. United Methodist Church
lakeoswegoumc.org

18 - Wed - 8 pm
CREATIVE MUSIC GUILD
Catherine Lee - oboe
Matt Hannafin - percussion
Turn! Turn! Turn!
creativemusicguild.org

21/22 - Sat/Sun - 7:30 pm
OREGON SYMPHONY
Toshio Hosokawa
Arlene Schnitzer Hall
orsymphony.org

27 - Fri - 8 pm
PUNCH BROTHERS & GABRIEL KAHANE
Roseland Theatre
aladdin-theatre.com

===================================== >

Radio:

7/14/21/28 - Saturday: 8-10
CLUB MOD
All-Classical @ 89.9 FM
allclassical.org

2/9/16/23 - Monday: 8-10
A DIFFERENT NATURE
KBOO @ 90.7 FM
kboo.fm

===================================== >

ET Recording of the Month:

SAX ALLEMANDE
"A Kagel-Schubert Project"
FARAO classics

===================================== >

ET West Coast Concert of the Month:

14 - Sat - 8
JACK QUARTET
Haas & Radulescu
Orpheum Annex (Vancouver, BC)
newmusic.org

===================================== >

Blogs:

ALITISA
alitisa.com

EXPERIMENTAL PORTLAND
experimentalportland.com

NOBLE VIOLA
nobleviola.com

NORTHWEST REVERB
northwestreverb.blogspot.com

OREGON ARTS WATCH
orartswatch.org

OREGON MUSIC NEWS
oregonmusicnews.com

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Violinist Jackiw thrills with performances of Lutoslawski and Dvořák

Stefan Jackiw
Stefan Jackiw has become one of my favorite violinists. He always plays with high energy and intelligence and is acutely attuned to the orchestra. I heard him give an immaculate and incredibly fast interpretation of Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto at the Grant Park Orchestra in June when his fingers outraced an impending thunderstorm. This past weekend, Jackiw was in town to perform with the Oregon Symphony, which marked his third engagement with the orchestra (previous appearances were in 2009 and 2012). I heard him on Monday evening (February 23) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in a program in which he played Witold Lutoslawski’s “Partita for Violin and Orchestra” and Antonin Dvořák’s “Romance in F minor for Violin and Orchestra.” Jackiw delivered two superb performances of these wonderfully contrasting pieces, collaborating seamlessly with the orchestra under guest conductor Christoph König.

As Jackiw mentioned to the audience in a brief introductory statement, Lutoslawski’s “Partita” is a five movement work with two movements (both titled Ad libitum) that contain aleatory or chance music. For those movements, he explained that he would be playing in a tempo that was in his head and that orchestra and piano (which has a prominent part) would play in another. I have to admit that by the time the ad lib movements arrived, I forgot all about the chance aspect but mesmerized by how the music moved between a pensive quality and a freed up feeling. Jackiw created some very quick passages that pianist Carol Rich seemed to echo at times. In another section, Jackiw marvelously played tones that seemed almost hollow, and later he commanded a dizzy array of notes that gave the piece a mercurial sense.

After finishing Lutoslawski’s edgy “Partita,” Jackiw returned to the stage to perform Dvořák’s “Romance in F minor,” which he played with such grace and understanding that it became a sublime experience. Throughout the piece, he consistently projected a beguiling sound above the orchestra. That demonstrated that his musicality includes listening to the orchestra and gauging the dynamics correctly (which is not always an easy thing in the Schnitz). The audience loved it all with applause that called him back to the stage several times.

The concert began with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s supremely moody “Isle of the Dead. After a plaintive call from the French horn (John Cox), the lower strings and harp (Jennifer Craig) established a shroud of fog and the orchestra painted the picture of a boat moving deliberately across a still lake. Highlights from the orchestra included lovely solos by flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulson, a swelling brass passage, an expansive melody from the violins, a terrific gnawing passage from the violas, a silky solo by concertmaster Sarah Kwak, a beautiful, fading phrase from clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, and a sense of subsiding waves from the cellos and basses.

The concert ended with a lively and energetic performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. König led the orchestra with a brisk pace, and that gave the piece a fresh and alive feeling. Kudos to oboist Karen Wagner, flutist DiDonato Paulson, bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood, and hornist Joseph Berger for their outstanding solos. König used a combination of sweeping and almost dance-like motions and sharper, decisive gestures. I think that the performance took only 25 or so minutes, and even at that blitzing pace, Beethoven's Fifth still packs a solid knockout punch.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Seattle Opera's all-new production of "Semele" wows in every way

Alek Shrader (left) as Jupiter and soprano Brenda Rae (right) as the title character in Semele.
  © Elise Bakketun
Wow! You might think that watching a Baroque opera with its endless da capo arias would be akin to watching paint dry, but Seattle Opera’s all-new production of Handel’s “Semele” tosses that notion out the window. This “Semele” has everything going for it: terrific singers anchored by the Stephanie Blythe, spirited conducting by Gary Thor Wedow, spot-on directions by Tomer Zvulun, evocative costumes by Vita Tzykun, inventive projections and sets by Erhard Rom, and wizardly lighting by Robert Wierzel. It all caused the audience to go bananas when the curtain came down on the final scene at McCaw Hall on opening night (February 21).

Right from start during the overture, this production grabbed the audience’s attention by introducing the main characters as if they were in a movie or TV show. If the singer had a role as a god or goddess, then an image of that character was projected upon the scrim across the front of the stage. If the singer had the role of a mortal, then a spotlight shone on him or her from behind the scrim. For those singers who did two roles (for example, Blythe as Juno and as Ion), the deity was shown first.

Handel’s libretto was adapted from an earlier version by the great Restoration writer William Congreve. The story takes place in ancient times. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, the King of Thebes, has been promised in marriage to Athamas, but Jupiter has been smitten with Semele’s beauty and she longs for him. After Jupiter carries Semele away to a pleasure-palace, Jupiter’s wife, Juno, becomes incensed, and takes revenge. With the help of Somnus, the god of sleep, Juno immobilizes Semele’s sister Ino and then takes on Ino’s likeness. She then convinces Semele that she can become acquire immortality if Jupiter will reveal his divine form to her. Semele falls for Juno’s line of thinking, and it results in Semele’s death.

Amanda Forsythe (left) as Iris and Stephanie Blythe (right) as Juno in Handel's Semele.  © Elise Bakketun
Brenda Rae created a radiant and comely Semele with superb singing that included at least two arias with stratospheric notes. After receiving a mirror and becoming totally infatuated with herself, Rae delivered a thrilling “Myself I shall adore,” which was one of the high points of the evening. Alek Shrader’s Jupiter displayed an equally compelling voice, commanding all of the florid lines with a natural and engaging tone that was smooth and golden at the top – even during his rage arias. Shrader’s sublime singing of “Where’er you walk” was another memorable moment, and he also wonderfully sang the role of Apollo.

Blythe switched seamlessly between the two characters. As Juno on her throne, she whiled away her time with bon bons until photographic proof of her philandering husband spurred to into action, The flinty wrath of her anger, which descended into the basement of Blythe’s range, torched the stage and caused an eruption of cheers from the audience. Later, as Ino, Blythe and Rae’s duet, “Prepare then, ye immortal choir,” ended so spectacularly that the audience responded with thunderous applause, which, in turn, drowned out the first few measures of the ensuing chorus.

Amanda Forsythe sparkled in the role of Iris, singing impeccably and with carefree abandon. She complimented it all with excellent comic timing, shoes that lit up, and gloves that threw beams of green laser light all over the place. John Del Carlo projected a depth charge of basso profundo that gave weight to the grief of Cadmus and to the drowsy Somnus.
From right: Stephanie Blythe (Juno), John Del Carlo (Somnus) and Amanda Forsythe (Iris) in Semele
© Avi Loud
Counter tenor Randall Scotting created an ardent Athamas, but his voice was overshadowed by Blythe’s when they sang together. The Seattle Opera Chorus was thoroughly prepared by John Keene. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow guided the 37-piece chamber orchestra with élan while playing a virginal (a Baroque keyboard instrument). Overall, the music-making was of the highest caliber.

Tomar Zvulun’s witty directions enhanced the production, and kept it from tipping over into the land of slapstick comedy, which would have trivialized the sensuous and poignant moments. The projections and sets, designed by Erhard Rom, had a modern flair yet evoked foreground of an ancient temple and lofty mountain heights. Humorous touches included huge selfies of Semele that adorned the pleasure-palace and Somnus draped over a sofa in the lair of his nightclub. Costume designer Vita Tzkun gave the gods and goddesses lavish outfits to match their outsized personalities, including an extended cape for Somnus, which gave him a Fafner-like presence. The flashiest garb was worn by Iris, whose gloves emitted laser lights and winged shoes lit up the floor. Imaginative lighting by Robert Wierzel put just the right glow on everything.

Much more could be stated about this amazing production, which has to rank as one of Seattle Opera’s best ever, There are four performances left to choose from: February 28, March 4, 6, and 7. Go see it, by Jupiter, go!
Brenda Rae (Semele) and the Seattle Opera Chorus in Handel's masterpiece Semele.
© Avi Loud

Monday, February 23, 2015

Terrific Liszt rendered by Cohen - Brotons’ Sixth Symphony receives searing performance by the Vancouver Symphony

It was Oscar night on TV, but that didn’t deter a sizeable audience from attending the Vancouver Symphony concert on Sunday evening (March 22nd) at Skyview Concert Hall. They were treated to outstanding performances by Arnaldo Cohen of Franz Liszt’s Piano Concertos No. 1 and No 2 and a spirited world premiere of the Sixth Symphony (“Concise”) of Salvador Brotons.

Cohen, a multi-talented pianist who maintains an active international performing career while teaching at a prestigious conservatory and leading Portland Piano International, is no stranger to Liszt, having made five recordings of his music, including the concertos on the VSO program. Yet despite the familiarity, Cohen’s playing was infused with energy and intelligence, and he electrified the audience with highly charged and impeccable interpretations. From the keyboard of the Steinway grand, he delivered thundering octaves, smooth arpeggios, terrific staccato lines, sudden sforzandos, and quiet, contemplative lines with nuanced phrasing. Cohen expressed the music wonderfully, without straying into any kind of excess.

On the whole, the orchestra accompanied him very well. A couple of times in the first concerto, Brotons did quite get the orchestra to cut off with Cohen at exactly the same time. Orchestral highlights included shimmering phrases from the violins and expressive solos by principal trombonist Greg Scholl, and principal oboist Karen Strand. In the second concerto, principal cellist Justin Kagan played several lovely solos, but one of them got a little covered up by the orchestra. The orchestra also overshadowed principal flutist Darren Cook’s solo a bit too much. Again, principal oboist Strand played her solos with distinction.

Thunderous applause followed Cohen’s performances, and he responded to the volleys of bravos with a solo, which he told the audience was “Liszt, only different.”

Brotons originally wrote his Sixth Symphony in 2011 as a work for symphonic band, and it has been recorded by the Barcelona Symphonic Band on the Naxos label. Over the past summer, he rearranged the work for orchestra, and the Vancouver Symphony gave its world premiere at this concert (and the previous afternoon’s concert).

“Concise” is an apt name for this symphony, because in five compact movements, the music covers a lot of ground. The first movement (“Frontal”) had a dramatic opening, featuring salvos from principal timpanist Florian Conzetti and the percussion battery, transitioned to a busy theme that had only the briefest of lulls before the orchestra (agitated by the double basses) took off to the races again. Another transition brought the ensemble into a floating, dreamy space before it was summoned with attacks from all sides and wrapped up by the percussion in a rat-tat-tat ,sharp, crisp ending.

The next movement (“Courtship”) started with a slow, steady beat, which gave way to a lighter segment with solos for trombone (Scholl), bassoon (Margaret McShea), and cello (Kagan). The wandering nature of the music segued to a majestic section that became ominous with an almost queasy brass sound, lots of tension and an unresolved finish.

The third movement (“Scherzo”) was light and bouncy, like a dance. Sporadic entrances and exits dotted the mood until it all suddenly ended. The fourth movement (“Passacaglia”) was quite solemn and serious, starting in the lower strings. The feeling of heaviness sprang forward via the flute (Cook) and gradually acquired an elegiac mood before breaking into a beautiful melody that was shared by the entire orchestra. The melody travelled to the brass and woodwinds, and then it slowed down to a dramatic ending that was filled with sonic blasts from the timpani and percussion, building loads of tension, which spilled into the fifth movement (“Finale”) where a lighter state of being took over. Surging melodies emerged and dynamic twists and turns took place until the big theme swelled to the top and all was crown with a bombastic conclusion.

Overall, the strong emotional content of the Sixth Symphony seemed to reflect Brotons’ personality. It had lots of highs and lows, more fortes perhaps than pianos, and always and unrelenting drive. I don’t know if the piece will be played a hundred years from now, but I hope so, because it is lively work that is fun to hear and reflective of the human experience.

The concert opened with the Overture to Dmitri Kabalevsky’s opera “Colas Breugnon.” The orchestra played it with gusto, and it struck a harmonious chord with the audience.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Experience bold Byzantine Chant with Cappella Romana's newest recording, "Good Friday in Jerusalem"


If you have ever wondered what it would be like to hear music from the 8th and 9th centuries, then you should listen to Cappella Romana’s latest album “Good Friday in Jerusalem.” In this recording, the men of Cappella Romana sing Byzantine Chant from the “Service of the Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” as done at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Byzantine Chant refers to a style of liturgical chant that was developed during the Byzantine Empire (approximately 330 to 1453) and into the 16th century.

The 17 selections in Cappella Romana’s recording start with a procession to the Mount of Olives and continue to other stations such as Golgotha, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and the Chapel of the Holy Custody. The pace is deliberate and bold. In most of the selection, one or more group of men chant the text (for example, a Psalm) and they are supported by a drone of baritone and basses. Some of the chants feature a slight wiggle in some of the tones. At other times, the chanter’s voice might slide between tones, giving the music a Middle Eastern flavor.

It’s fascinating to hear the shifts in tone because the chant and the drone move absolutely together. No one takes a back seat here. Both the chanter(s) and the droning chorus are equally strong. Most of the chanting is sung in the baritone range, except one section when the singers admonish “Impious and lawless people” who “meditate vain things." That’s when the tenor range is in full bloom.

The expertly researched liner notes from Cappella Romana’s artistic director Alexander Lingas provides plenty of background material for this music, and the texts are printed in Greek and English. Unless you understand ancient Greek, one of the few words that is recognizable is “Christus” (Christ).

With its arresting, beautiful music and testament to faith, “Good Friday in Jerusalem,” recorded at the Stanford Memorial Chapel in 2013, is another feather in Cappella Romana’s cap. The ensemble has released over 20 albums, and they have a long ways to go, because, if you consider that the Byzantine Empire lasted a thousand years, there a lot of Byzantine Chant still waiting to be discovered.
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PS: "Good Friday in Jerusalem" is currently number 8 on Billboard classical chart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Warmth, color, texture in treble clef – the voices of In Mulieribus in "Live 2"

If you would like to experience women’s voices making warm, ethereal music, then you should hear the singing of In Mulieribus in its new album, “Live 2.” Released just a couple of months ago, “Live 2” is the fourth recording of In Mulieribus, a Portland-based female vocal ensemble. It contains ten selections from programs that the ensemble performed from 2009 to 2014.

The selections feature sacred music from the Middle Ages and a couple of pieces by contemporary composers Craig Kingsbury and Ivan Moody, which are inspired by Early Music. Unified vowels, pure intonation, and just a hint of vibrato from the eight voices of In Mulieribus create a warmth and depth that is an absolute pleasure to hear, starting with the “Venite omens cristicole” of the “Codes calixtinus,” which dates by to the 12th century. The “Ave verum corpus” of Josquin Des Préz, has a very low passage for altos that may come as a surprise. The lively “From Virgin’s Womb” by Renaissance composer William Byrd contains a lovely solo by Hannah Penn. “Thys endere nyght” contains lilting singing by Penn and soprano Catherine van der Salm depicting an exchange between the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. The “Hodie Christus natus est” of Portland-based composer Kingsbury and the “Cum natus esset Iesus” of British composer Moody, convey the tranquil and timelessness of the Christmas story. The ensemble is equally impressive in its singing of “Mervele noght, Joseph” from the 15th Century Ritson Manscript and in works by French composers Elzéar Genet Carpentras and Antoine Brumel.

Several years ago, I purchased a CD recording of the acclaimed women’s quartet Anonymous 4 and was struck by their pristine sound. That quartet is seen as the gold standard for Early Music performance by women’s vocal ensembles. Yet the group’s recording left me with a feeling of coldness and thinness. It seemed that accuracy trumped emotion. I wasn’t expecting anything operatic, but every piece seemed cut and dried. There wasn’t all that much intensity. In any case, I became disinterested in hearing women’s ensembles that do Early Music (and music in the style of early music). With this new recording of In Mulieribus, I have changed my mind. This group generates much warmth and vibrancy, which can be felt from the recording. I strongly suggest that you give “Live 2” a listen.