Monteverdi Choir at Princeton

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Ted Quanrud
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Monteverdi Choir at Princeton

Post by Ted Quanrud » Fri Jun 20, 2014 3:46 pm

The Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and Sir John Eliot Gardiner were in splendid form in their only U.S. appearance during the choir’s 50th anniversary tour on Sunday, June 15, in the Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University.

Sponsored by William and Judith Scheide, the concert was also Sir John’s tribute to his friend, Mr. Scheide, who is celebrating his 100th birthday this year. A noted Bach scholar, the founder and longtime director of the Bach Aria Group, a renowned bibliophile and philanthropist, he has spent much of his considerable fortune in “life-long support of the arts, education, civil rights, health, and poverty relief programs.”

Following a gracious welcome by Mrs. Scheide, who also possesses a formidable resume, Gardiner opened the concert with what is perhaps the finest of Bach’s six surviving motets, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied” (Sing unto the Lord a new song). Accompanied only by two cellos, double bass and keyboard continuo, it was a showcase for the choir. The precision of intonation, diction and blending of voices seemed almost superhuman, exposing and illuminating every detail of Bach’s counterpoint. Yet there was nothing mechanical about the performance; it was a human and heartfelt as could be hoped for.

The same could be said for the second concert offering, the early cantata, “Christ lag in Totesbanden” (Christ lay in the bonds of death), a deeply haunting work from 1707. Under Sir John’s direction, it is also intensely dramatic with the chorus and orchestra seemingly at times carrying on a conversation. Like the choir, the orchestra played precisely and with feeling.

After intermission and some brief and witty comments by Sir John, the concert concluded with Handel’s “Dixit Dominus.” Also written in 1707, this psalm setting stood in sharp contrast to the Bach cantata it, exuberant, even vehement. Yet it shared the same imaginative counterpoint and the interplay between the chorus and the orchestra. It was a tremendous way to say Happy Birthday.

The soloists, all drawn from the choir, were excellent

Luckily for me, I was seated only three rows back in the very center. I had the entire concert in perfect stereo and could hear even the tiniest of details, most especially David Miller’s fine theorbo.

I have been fortunate enough in the last 10 years or so to have heard the Monteverdi Choir in music of Mozart, Beethoven and now Bach and Handel. When Sir John and company return to the U.S. this coming April 30 and May 1, for performances of their signature work, the Monteverdi Vespers, and a concert version of L’Orfeo at Carnegie Hall, I hope to be in the audience.

jbuck919
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Re: Monteverdi Choir at Princeton

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 08, 2014 12:14 pm

Sounds like a splendid event. I'm currently reading, a few pages at a time, Gardner's book on Bach, which has more to offer than I was expecting. (Maybe I'll post when I'm done, which won't be for a while.)

Just a tangential note on the venue. I haven't been back to Princeton since Mr. Richardson paid for those renovations of Alexander Hall (the building which contains the auditorium), though I know that it is an understatement to say that something was desperately needed. (We used to joke that no one named Hall should ever name his son Alexander.) Since anything would be better than what was there, I may not have to hear a concert there to deem the renovation a success. The building itself is in a style coincidentally called Richardsonian Romanesque, which contributed the three ugliest buildings to the Princeton campus as well as (to me anyway) a number of notable eyesores in other cities. Since they are built like virtual fortresses, or maybe prisons, we are stuck with them. In fact, it may tell you something that the style originated with the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. But that is a rant, and has nothing inherent to do with the musical experience to be found inside. Thanks for the review, Ted.

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There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

karlhenning
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Re: Monteverdi Choir at Princeton

Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 09, 2014 2:56 pm

Thank you both . . . I'll check out that JEG book on JSB.

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
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