Review by Judith Caldwell
Musikay under the direction of maestro Stephane Potvin presented an evening of à cappella renaissance music at St. John’s United Church. The program opened with ‘Salva nos, Domine’ by Giovanni Palestrina a short, solemn piece of sacred music by a master of clear polyphonic style. Prior to Palestrina polyphony was becoming so complex that at times it was difficult to follow the text, but Palestrina showed that it was possible to have both complicated tones and clear text. As a result he is one of the best known 16th century composers.
Next we heard the Magnificat of Alexander Agricola who composed in the 15th century. The work begins with a Gregorian chant and then becomes very complex with different rhythms for each group of singers. It required extreme timing control by the performers who sung it beautifully.
The sacred portion of the concert was completed by another Palestrina, his Missa Brevis that Potvin said was a little piece of heaven. It was in the five classic sections of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Benedictus, and Agnes Dei; with the Credo being the long ‘statement’ and beautifully expressive core of the piece.
For a change of pace we next heard three works by another 16th century composer, Clement Janequin who had the great good fortune to be writing popular songs just at the time it became possible to print music, so he became very well known – even though this did not apparently lead to riches as he complained of poverty for most of his life. The works we heard were ‘Le rossignol’ (the nightingale) and his two best known compositions ‘La guerre’ and ‘Le chant des oiseaux’. La guerre was written to celebrate the French victory over the Swiss in 1515 at Marignano and it contains trumpet calls, cannon fire, and triumphant shouts of ‘victoire’, all sounds produced by our nine singers. Then they were challenged to produce the bird sounds and trills of Le chant des oiseaux.
The singers of Musikay are all well trained professional musicians who worked very hard under the leadership of maestro Potvin to present this very challenging music and make it look like fun and sound gorgeous. Unfortunately, it seems to appeal to a very small audience, although the people who were there all said they really enjoyed it.