In Mulieribus, the Portland-based female vocal ensemble, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a superb concert of madrigals at The Old Church on Saturday evening (March 4). The singers’ pitch-perfect precision, tonal balance, emotional intensity, and clear diction conveyed piece outstandingly. Some pieces were sung as solos, some as duets, trios, quartets, whatever. It didn’t matter. The high artistry of the group wove a fantastic tapestry of sound that made the concert one of the best so far this year.
Led by artistic director Anna Song, who directed some of the selections and sang in others, the program sampled madrigals primarily from the Italian and English repertoire plus a brand new piece that the group commissioned from Craig Kingsbury. The other sirens in the ensemble were sopranos Kari Ferguson, Arwen Myers, Catherine van der Salm, Ann Wetherell, mezzo soprano Hannah Penn, and altos Sue Hale and Jo Routh. They were accompanied on some of the pieces by theorboist Hideki Yamaya and on two selections by Blake Applegate, Aaron Cain, and Brian Tierney.
The concert sparkled from the get go with a quartet singing “Su, su, su pastorelli vezzosi” (“Arise, up, charming shepherd lads”) from Book 8 of Claudio Monteverdi’s Madrigals. The overlapping lines were well-balanced throughout and the light quality was totally inviting. “Ah, Robin, gentle Robin” by William Corynish acquired a plaintive, searching tone that took the audience in a more melancholic direction. Later in the program John Wilbye’s “Weep, O mine eyes,” sung by a sextet, also created a wonderfully mournful mood.
The matching of vowels and consonants were wonderfully demonstrated throughout the concert, but the trio (Myers, van der Salm, and Ferguson) singing of Luzzasco Luzzaschi’s “T’amo mia vita” (“I love you, my life”) sounded as if they were just one person with three voices. In much the same way, Wetherell and Hale singing of Strozzi’s “Begli occhi” (“Beautiful eyes”) by Barbara Strozzi was perfectly matched in every which-way by. The crunchy suspensions of Alesandro Scarlatti’s “Cor meo deh non languire” (“My heart, do not languish”) received an impeccable interpretation by a quintet.
Van der Salm gave such a breathtakingly exquisite performance of Alessandro Grandi’s “O quam tu pulchra es” (“O how beautiful you are”) that the audience responded with applause even though they should have waited until the end of the following piece. Jan Sweelinck’s “Lascia filli, mi acara” (“Leave,my sweet girl”) achieved a gem-like polish with a trio (Myers, Hale, and Routh).
Equally effective were Myers and Penn in their solos. Myers delivered a stunningly beautiful interpretation of Monteverdi’s “Lamento della Ninfa” (“The Nymph’s Lament”), augmented by the male trio. Hannah Penn’s haunting plea in Barbara Strozzi’s “Chesi può fare” (“What can one do”) penetrated all corners of the room with heart-felt emotion
Even though most of the madrigals in the program were written over 400 years ago, it was refreshing to hear a new take on the form. Based on a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, Kingsbury’s “Canción de las siete doncellas” (“Song of the seven maidens”) received a splendid world premiere at this concert. The music had lots of close-cut dissonance –coupled with multilayered phrases and flat-out beautiful harmonics.
“Sole e pensoso” (“Alone and thoughtful”) by Luca Marenzio featured alto Routh, soprano van der Salm and the male ensemble. The final number “Sanita e allegrezza” (“Health and joy”) by Orazio Vecchi sent the audience out into the night in good cheer.