classical music review | what you missed
Once again, the Festival Music Society steps beyond the conventional by presenting, for the first time locally, a concert devoted to Renaissance sacred polyphony, as embodied in the work of the 16th century Italian master Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). Actually the "da Palestrina" means "from [the town of ] Palestrina" - the only instance of a great composer being known by the name of his hometown.
Lionhart performed as part of the Early Music Festival last weekend.
And once again, the Indianapolis Art Center auditorium was packed last Friday, with the audience amply rewarded by the six a cappella male singers known as Lionheart, whom FMS Musical Director Frank Cooper engaged from their home base, The Cloisters, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From countertenor to bass, hearing their weaving of separate melodic strands to produce "perfect" harmony was made the more meaningful by the "perfect" ability of the Lionheart singers to do it. But their first piece - a Gregorian chant, with a wholly unison line - was a perfect introduction to just how good these men can sing as an ensemble and demonstrate their perfect pitch. Then, with Palestrina"s ensuing Ave Maria, came the polyphony, as complex and rewarding as musical construction and syntax has ever gotten, from the days the Gregorian chants were first notated late in the first millennium to the present. The high Renaissance was a defining period in making harmony uniquely preeminent in Western music.
In this intermissionless, applauseless concert, Lionheart continued with the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Palestrina"s Missa in duplicibus minoribus I (Mass for the lesser second-class [feast]); these were interspersed with the composer"s Adoramus te for four voices, Petrus beatus catenarum laqueos by Costanzo Festa (1490-1545) - which includes more unison passages - and followed by the latter"s Tibi Christe splendor patris.
As inspiring as were Palestina"s liturgical works, the two Lionheart offerings by his one-time pupil, Spaniard Tom·s Luis de Victoria (ca1549-1611), perhaps offer more sheer harmonic beauty. These included O regem caeli, which also contains interesting changes of meter, and Victoria"s own setting of Ave Maria, one of his most famous pieces. Whereas Palestrina"s harmony evolves from his separately constructed lines, it seems to me that Victoria already thinks in terms of his harmonic transitions - and lets the lines fall into place.
Finally, however, Lionheart"s last two Palestrina offerings, following Victoria"s Ave Maria, seemed to equal the beauty of the latter"s harmonies - the concert thus ending with the best of both worlds.
On Sunday, the FMS" Early Music Festival concluded its six-concert series with the appearance of harpsichordist Jory Vinikour. His program consisted solely of Bach"s most ambitious keyboard work, The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. A complete compendium of the Baroque-style variation form, the work uses a static aria, with 30 kaleidoscopic variations on its bass line, and concludes with the original aria, now abbreviated. A 39-year-old Chicago native, Vinikour, with his skill and sure sense of style, made one of Bach"s highest intellectual achievements into a personal, emotional experience - a hallmark of performing excellence.