Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Concert: Les Sirenes (Sirènes) (11/16/2012)

cellist Cora Swenson
First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, CA

Virtuosi Italiani - The Florid Style of Monteverdi and Handel

Monteverdi: Zefiro torna
Monteverdi: Ohimè dove il mio ben  from Settimo Libro de Madrigali
Monteverdi: Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (Scherzi musicali)
Monteverdi: Si dolce è'l tormento (Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze)
Frescobaldi: Centro partite sopra passacagli
Monteverdi: O come sei gentile (Settimo Libro de Madrigali)
Monteverdi: Pur ti miro (L'incoronazione di Poppea)
Handel: Quel fior che all'alba ride HWV 192
Geminiani: Cello Sonata Op.5 No.6 in A minor

Handel: Va speme infida HWV 199
Handel: Per te lasciai la luce (Da quel giorno fatale) HWV 192
Handel: Bella gloria in campo armato (Solitudini care, amata liberta) HWV 163
Handel: No,m di voi non vo' fidarmi HWV 189


我比較少接觸聲樂這件事,我想也就不需要一直重申了。總之,這場音樂會是抱著一種好奇的心態來參加的,因為常常這些音樂會總是有些意想不到的驚奇(像Vivica Genaux的那場)。

簡單地說,這個以聲樂為主的古樂團Les Sirenes的音樂會讓我印象著實地深刻。二位聲樂家Kathryn Mueller和Kristen Watson的聲音清徹但有力;她們的音量足以將整個教堂給飽合,但她們分寸取得恰好,所以並沒有刺耳的不舒適感。她們的唱腔(至少在我現在的印象裡)不會因為一些效果而刻意去營造那種渾厚感,而是保持一貫的輕盈。音樂中需要表達的各種負面情緒,則是利用二聲部間形成的和聲,順水推舟,自然而成。

音樂會的主題為Virtuosi Italiani,展現出義大利聲樂的華麗曲風。上半場為早期巴洛克音樂,最重要聲樂作曲家代表自然為Monteverdi了。這些曲子都出自他的歌曲集,牧歌,或是歌劇。有些歌曲是獨唱,但二人合唱的曲子因為有二聲部的交織,多了許多層面而讓我更是喜愛。這讓我想起Shawshank Redemption電影中主角將Mozart的費加洛婚禮中的合唱曲利用廣播器放給全監獄的犯人的那一幕。我當時在台下的心情,可能就像那樣子;來自人聲製造出來,單純的美,在精神層面上得到一種短暫忘我式的自由。

上半場的Monteverdi聲樂曲中穿插了Frescobaldi的大鍵琴曲,是一首近十分鐘的passacaglia。Michael Sponseller是在Bruges的兩屆大鍵琴大賽有拿名次的,所以技巧自然沒造成他的問題。至於他的詮釋和演奏風格,他也展現出自己有性格的一面。在比較快的段落裡,他的整個肢體動作也會激動起來。將這首曲子一口氣彈完,實為一小壯舉,不過Frescobaldi這種早期的鍵盤曲,充滿了半音階,而且有幾段音樂本身的張力不足,要能每一刻都能抓得住聽眾並非容易。連我,也在中途放空了幾次~~

下半場的主角則是Handel。雖然他是德國出生的作曲家,但Handel充分地掌握住了義大利歌劇的創作手法。他音樂中的隆重華麗,為晚期巴洛克的一絕。Les Sirenes選的音樂,不是來自他的歌劇或是神劇,而是他的室內聲樂作品集。

如果以為這些都是「冷門」的韓德爾,那可就大錯特錯了。仔細聽聽,會發現都似曾相識。原來,這些義大利歌曲的旋律,會被他放在日後的「彌賽亞」裡面。可說,這些音樂居然是彌賽亞的幾首合唱曲的原始版。韓德爾回收自己音樂的程度,讓我再給他加了一個等級。不過Les Sirenes也說到,Handel雖然後來在英國定居,但他對於英文的掌握,仍不如義大利文。因此,這些室內聲樂曲,倒是Handel寫起來較為自然。不管怎樣,對我來說,都是一個有趣的體驗。

如同上半場,下半場也夾了一首純器樂曲,為Geminiani的大提琴奏鳴曲,讓大提琴家Cora Swenson表現一下。這首我其實是有印象,因為第一樂章是直接接到第二樂章,也是我最喜歡的樂章。最後的樂章,雖不難聽,但對我而言,少了點特色,像是音樂過了高潮,在花很長的時間收尾。Swenson拉得很中肯,不過我印象最深的是她的大提琴的聲音非常渾厚,與教堂的空間有很好的共鳴,不像其他我聽過別的巴洛克大提琴聲音很微弱。

Les Sirenes這場音樂會,對我來說真是餘音裊裊。日後聽現場的聲樂,便以這場做為標竿了。下次會讓我如此動容的聲樂表演,將會是何時?


Michael Sponseller, harpsichordist


I've mentioned many times in the past that I am not a connoisseur of early vocal music.  I think this will be the last time I will be stressing this fact.  On another note, this Les Sirenes concert has been one of the most beautiful and enjoyable vocal music concerts I have attended so far.  I would describe their voices as possessing a clarity and volume that manage to fill a church but does not cause discomfort on the ears.  Unlike some who add a coarseness to their sounds for added effects, Les Sirenes's vocalists maintain a lightness in their voice, preferring to let the music's harmony itself do most of the heavy lifting and create the affects, with slight additional articulations.

The overall theme of the concert was the florid Italian vocal style, represented in the early Baroque by Monteverdi and late Baroque by Handel.  In the first half, the selected Monteverdi pieces are from his 7th book of madrigals, other song books, and one from his opera L'incoronazione di Poppea.  Some of Monteverdi's songs have a familiar chaconne bassline rhythm that is also heard in works by Bertali and Merula, just to name a few.  In general I found the duet pieces more enjoyable and interesting than the solo ones.  Monteverdi's music has many incidences of harmonic clashes that even stand out today, and the two voices intensify this.    

A virtuosic Frescobaldi keyboard piece is thrown into the middle of the first half.  This 10-minute passacaglia is played by harpsichordist Michael Sponseller, twice a cash-prize winner at the prestigious Bruges harpsichord competition.  An virtuoso in his own right, he definitely has the technical chops and the stamina to tackle this piece.  More about Frescobaldi than the performer, though, that such a long piece tends to lose some steam at multiple places throughout.  Admittedly, my mind wandered off a few times.  Kudos to Sponseller though, of showing excitement at the faster sections and never failing to let the audience know the challenges of this piece.      

The second half featured Handel's music in a style we are more familiar with.  None of the music chosen comes from his operas or oratorios.  Yet, there was a strong sense of déjà vu permeating throughout this half.  Now we all know that Handel was a good recycler, and by that I don't mean the environmental friendly kind.  Turns out, these Italian songs were the earlier chamber versions of certain choral pieces of the later more famous Messiah.  The themes are unmistakable, while the lyrics, well, it's just in another language.  Les Sirenes comments that Handel's grasp of the English language was still worse than Italian, therefore these Italian songs show are more natural and show the composer more at ease.  I can't say that this wasn't an interesting experience.

Like the first half, there was a Geminiani cello sonata as an instrumental piece spacer.  I remember this particular piece, as there is literally no break between the 1st and the 2nd movement.  I also particularly like this movement, since it goes downhill from there.  Meaning, the music in the last movement is on the unspectacular side for me.  Cellist Cora Swenson puts in a solid performance, but I think ultimately it's Geminiani's music that disappoints.  One thing I clearly remember is how well her cello sound projects and resonates in the church.  I have been to many other concerts here, and some of the other Baroque cellos sound very puny.  Not hers.

I can't remember another vocal music performance which I was as enthralled as this one.  Maybe I haven't been to many and don't know better, but the combination of the music, the singers, and the venue all came together to produce something that I won't forget for a long time.  It will also serve as the measuring stick to future vocal music concerts I plan to attend. 

I briefly talked to Mr. Sponseller after the concert.  He was very nice fellow.  The CD of mine that he autographed features him in a continuo role, where he elects to do this on the cello in some tracks.  He jokingly said that was a past phase and he no longer plays cello these days.  At least not seriously.

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