Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: In Mulieribus in Love--Sacred and Profane

In Mulieribus was joined by instrumentalists Philip Neuman and Gayle Neuman on Friday, February 13th in a concert called Love—Sacred and Profane. They performed in the special acoustical space at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in southeast Portland.

The performance opened with a piece dedicated to the more lustful side of love. Anyone familiar with Carl Orff’s wildly popular setting of the Carmina Burana would have instantly recognized the Tempus est Iocundum. Executive Director Tuesday Rupp did the bulk of the singing as alto soloist, and was accompanied by Gayle Neuman on the vielle, an early, five-stringed bowed instrument closely related to the violin family.

Rupp’s robust, impassioned interpretation set the tone for the evening, as she pushed her delivery towards, but never across, the line of complete abandon, reflecting perfectly the meaning of the text. In the past Rupp has shown her abilityto give the impression of singing perilously close to the edge of control and then reign it back in (thereby demonstrating complete control). The effect imparted by this technique is profound, and is indicative of the high level of musicianship to be found in this ensemble as a whole. The audience had all it could do to refrain from thunderous applause until after certain pre-designated sections, as was requested in the program.

IM then did an abrupt about-face with O rosa bella by John Beldyngham (1422-1460.) The change was so immediate and complete as to almost be startling. The singing was heart-achingly tender, morphing from the intensity of the first work into a warm, luscious blanket of sound in which the listener could feel the meaning of the Italian without ever having to look at the translation.

Philip and Gayle Neuman then played three short tunes that demonstrated talent across a wide array of ancient instruments. They took a few moments to explain what they were about to play. The short tunes in this section from a large collection by Alfonso el Sabio, were played first with the vielle and tabor pipe (actually two instruments; a drum that is beat with one hand while the drummer plays a three-holed fife with the other hand.) The cittrole, a small flat-backed instrument reminiscent of a mandolin but plucked with a feather, was next, and Philip played a small, gentle sounding bagpipe for the third tune in this set.

Throughout the evening the Neumans joined in on recorders, many varieties of stringed instruments both bowed and strummed, primitive bassoons and small drums of all kinds (A.D. Anna Song also played percussion.) Gayle Neuman in particular joined on the vielle in a number of works, and the warmth and precision of her playing added greatly to the enjoyment of this concert.

In the second half of the concert, the song Moys de May by Dufay left one longing for a merrier and more sanguine month than February. Singers and instrumentalists alike deftly navigated the sudden, brief and tricky shifts in meter.

The transition from the music of Western Europe to the songs by the minnesänger (Germany’s version of the trouveres and troubadours) was obvious. The songs were more homophonic than some of the other works, but this allowed IM to display precision and unanimity of movement.

Control seemed to be the watchword of the evening, and the beauty and uniqueness of the German works left one with great regret that such a small portion of this repertoire survives.
Soprano Catherine Van der Salm sang the solo part of Under der Linden by Walther von der Vogelweide (c.1170-c.1230) with poise and exactness. Her deft control and delicate, plaintive insistence lent an emotional power to this work that was undeniable. She maintained a sweet timbre and showed remarkable evenness of vibrato that were truly worth hearing. IM newcomer Kristen Buhler, an mezzo-sooprano, also stood out with her rendition of another German song Meienzît, her precise and yet open delivery showing that she fits well with a group of this caliber.

Like other performances by In Mulieribus, this concert was peppered throughout with surprises. The programming allows listeners to get a sense of the tremendous variety in European art song throughout the many centuries spanned in their repertoire. The true wonder of IM’s performances is the simple joy inherent in listening to these accomplished scholar-singers throw everything they have into their craft, and it never ceases to delight and amaze.


In Mulieribus has had a change in lineup that is not yet reflected on their website. Mezzo-soprano Heather Rosczyk departed to Ohio, and IM is now joined by Kristen Buhler, a mezzo with an M.M. in Conducting from PSU (amongst other qualifications) and Jo Routh, alto, who is a music teacher and has performed with Cantores in Ecclesia, Cappella Romana, the PBO, and other groups.

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