An A Cappella Good Month
a review by Jeffrey Carson
THE VOCAL ENSEMBLE OF THE AEGEAN CENTER
Orfeas John Munsey, director
Friday, 1 June, 8.30pm
Catholic Church of Ag. Antonios, Paroikia
A cappella singing is a famously difficult art. The Italian words mean â€˜in the manner of the chapelâ€™, which usually translates as â€˜no instrumentsâ€™; musicologists two centuries ago wrongly thought that early classical music for church eschewed instruments, though they did not have independent lines as in a sacred cantata. King David introduced musical instruments into Temple worship based upon Godâ€™s commandment, in 2 Chronicles 29:25â€“29, as to who was to sing, who was to play, and what instruments should be employed. But â€˜no instrumentsâ€™ has endured, and seems purer to our age of declining religious belief. Ambitious Gospel groups perform a cappella and so do Barbershop quartets, and so does Orfeasâ€™ choir.
Purity rarely comes easy: pitch relaxes, rhythms loosen, polyphony unravels. But Maestro Orfeasâ€™ precise baton (it is metaphorical: he does not use one) maintains firm control, and his small chorus of dedicated amateurs has over the last decade achieved a remarkably high standard;, his June concerts drip precious water into Parosâ€™ sere summer.
This year the choir performed its summer programme four times in a week: once in Naoussa, twice in Paroikia, and once in Santorini. Since Friday nightâ€™s was on 1 June, I felt it was an auspicious â€˜kalo mÃªnaâ€™ greeting to us all. The singers were Niki Chasapi, Petra Kampman, Lilly Turmelle, Caroline Goddard, Apollonia Ikonomou, Brigitte Karavia, Stella Skordalellis, Jane Morris Pack, Christina Schwertschlag, Konstantina Andreakou and Antonis Prekas; all but one are returning for the autumn, as will much of the audience.
The evening commenced with a 15th century processional hymn, and appropriately followed it with Ascendens Christus by Jacob Gallus, a late Renaissance Slovenian composer whose Venetian-style pieces were especially popular in Germany. Three pieces from Englandâ€™s greatest period, the Elizabethan, gave me texts I could follow. Richard Farrant, who founded Blackfriars Theatre in 1576, prayed for forgiveness; Shakespeareâ€™s friend Thomas Morely likened love to fire (fa la la), as expressed by the unerring trio of Jane, Stella, and Apollonia; and John Dowland plangently longed for loveâ€™s return.
Two comic madrigals by Andriano Banchieri closed the eveningâ€™s first, Renaissance, section. The first had nonsense words and was sung by Niki, Stella and Andonis; the second, Counterpoint of the Beasts in the Mind, featured a hoot, a bark, a meow, and a cuckoo, and fa la la in intricate rhythm is catching.
Felix Mendelssohn, also a short-lived wunderkind, wrote Romantic music with Classical decorum, and Die Waldvoegelein (little forest birds), is a lovely song-poem of nature.
To close, the choir performed three sacred pieces in three moods. Theodorakis â€“ who wrote popular songs, oratorios, operas, symphonies, film scores, chamber works, and much else â€“ is usually considered Greeceâ€™s greatest composer. I met him at a symposium during the winter, and can report that, now in his late 80s, he is hale, lively, and still writing. His Cherubic Hymn from The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostomos is determinedly Byzantine in its intervals, emotions, and sinuousity, and modern in its harmonies, all negotiated with aplomb by Carolineâ€™s soaring soprano. This was followed by two Negro spirituals. In the slow and plaintive Somebodyâ€™s Knocking at Your Door, Stellaâ€™s richly throbbing low notes nearly persuaded me to repent. The rousing Ezekial Saw the Wheel made me feel joyous and completely in the mood to wish you all â€˜good monthâ€™, without instruments.