Review by Judith Caldwell
Love is in the air in February and Musikay offered a concert of 15th and Sixteenth century love songs in the form of madrigals and chansons. The setting of the concert was unusual in that a circle of approximately 30 chairs in the huge atrium of St. Thomas the Apostle Church surrounded the musicians who formed a smaller inner circle. Maestro Stephan Potvin explained that when this music was originally performed the singers would all be reading from one manuscript and so would be very close together so they could see and hear each other thus really helping the polyphonic singing.
When it comes to love, it appears some things never change, love makes us joyful if it is returned and melancholy if it is not.
The evening opened with three songs by the master of English melancholy, John Dowland. The first song was upbeat for him and made for a nice approachable madrigal to attune our 21st century ears to earlier music, but as far as Dowland’s love life was concerned it was downhill from there and ended in ‘tears, sighs and ceaseless cries.’ The other composers were English, French, Flemish and Italian with Philippe Verdelot being the earliest and Georg Friedrich Handel the latest. Their songs were sung in English, French and Italian by five singers who introduced themselves to the audience as the evening progressed. The combination of the intimacy of the setting and the almost conversational introductions of the singers gave a participatory feel to the audience, they weren’t just listening they were involved. It was very effective. The first singer to introduce herself was soprano Janet Stachow who said her main musical focus was piano, which she teaches, but she has also sung in many choirs. Catherine McCormack, alto, hails from Nova Scotia and loves singing sea shanties and Irish and Scottish folk songs, she also has a lot of choir experience. The bass, Terrance Ball said he had recently retired from playing violin and viola in the Philharmonic and is now addicted to playing squash. Shawn Oakes (tenor) teaches vocal and instrumental music in Brantford and is a member of Arkady singers. The second tenor, Michael Taylor, began his musical career at St. Michael’s School and said he had sung in church every Sunday for 25 years. Given his youth he must have started as a baby. The tenors each sang about half of the concert and both were required for the Lasciatemi morire of Claudio Monteverdi. The only familiar piece of music was Handel’s Lascia ch’io piango which was gorgeous but very brief. Some of the other pieces were quite jolly including one in which a maid soon to be wed to an old man was already planning to deceive him; and another where the composer was telling young girls not to gather at the fountain because ‘your eyes are too radiant, and your breasts too pointy’; other pieces were more complicated and rarefied. The music was beautifully performed by accomplished musicians who clearly enjoyed performing. Musikay performs ‘Messiah’ on April 29th & 30th.