Voices of a New Renaissance, a new professional vocal group of twelve singers led by Nathan Leaf, presented a concert of choral and solo works entitled "Love and Loss: Human Emotion Put to Voice" at Christ Episcopal Church, Raleigh. A large audience was on hand to hear and support the group.
Many of the twelve singers are experienced soloists; of the soloists featured in this program, soprano Kathryn Mueller and tenor Dana Wilson made the strongest impressions. Mueller's sparkling vocal pirouettes enlivened Henry Purcell's song of seduction, "Sweeter than Roses," while Wilson's clear diction and bright sound were equally successful in the same composer's rondo from The Indian Queen, "I attempt from love's sickness to fly." Wilson and harpsichordist Jennifer Streeter even overcame the competition from an emergency-vehicle siren which penetrated the church's stone walls midway through the song. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Grum Seiger gave a convincingly "high dudgeon" impression of an abandoned lover in "Quoi! rien ne peut vous arrêter?," by the evening's only Baroque composer, Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
The bulk of the program, however, consisted of Renaissance choral music, both sacred and secular. While most of the composers were English (Tallis, Tomkins, and Weekes, each a "Thomas"; and John Wilbye), the seminal Josquin's famous "Mille regrets" was heard, as was Pierre Passereau's "Il est bel et bon." The major work was Claudio Monteverdi's "Lagrime d'amante al sepolcro dell'amata" ("A lover's tears at the grave of his beloved"), a seven-sectioned work in the curious poetic form of the sestina.
While there were moments of lovely choral singing, especially in the quiet passages which ended the second and fourth sections of the Monteverdi work, the program as a whole suffered from problems with intonation. Singers who are used to singing with keyboard accompaniment (where every interval except the octave is purposely out-of-tune) often find it difficult to switch gears in order to sing a cappella music, which calls for pure thirds and fifths. VOANR's bass section (Lewis Moore, DeMar Austin Neal IV, and Lawrence Speakman) provided a solid base (pun intended) on which to build the tonal structure, but there were varying ideas among the tenors, altos, and sopranos as to exactly where to find those elusive pure thirds and fifths. The sopranos' sound was clear; but their collective vibrato, although not out of place for this genre of music, seemed most often to have the desired pitch at its top, rather than at its center.
The program ended with the evening's only "fa-la-la"-refrained madrigal, Weelkes' "Hark all ye lovely saints." It was good to hear this work, only the second on the program to have a lively tempo, as the finale, the other choral works all sharing a sameness of mood and motion.
The program will be repeated at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Durham on Saturday, February 1. For details, see the sidebar.