Music — Gems Of The Baroque

Gems Of The Baroque

By Jeff Rapsis

Talk about your old-fashioned holiday music. With the “newest” work dating from 1730, the Manchester Choral Society’s annual Christmas Tapestry concert was truly a throwback to another era.

In this case, the Baroque — that magical time in the 16th century when composers were finding their way from medieval forms such as motets and madrigals to modern harmonies and instrumentation.

Under director Lisa Wolff, the choral society delved way back, bringing to life holiday music from as far back as 400 years ago. Much of it was religious in nature, as you’d expect from a time when the church was the main supporter of music in Europe.

From this material, Wolff created a fascinating program of little known and rarely performed works for voice. Accompanied only by a group of four string players and Charles Blood on the organ, the group sang its way through pieces ranging from obscure religious settings to the familiar music of J.S. Bach, whose work marked the culmination of the era.

What a refreshing treat to hear such music made in Manchester — a holiday program of true musical interest, with not one traditional “Jingle Bells”-type carol on it. Instead, listeners were treated to such delights as six-part choral settings by 17th-century composer Heinrich Schütz, who wrote works in the opulent Venetian style of the Renaissance.

The two performances took place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 4 and 5 at Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester. Some works were staged with groups of singers on risers; some in front of the organ, some way in back, which helped the antiphonal textures come to life in several of the works. To add to the texture, some works featured violin obbligato lines arranged by Wolff in the Baroque style.

The music itself presented plenty of challenges, which the singers and soloists tackled with aplomb. But it was by no means all smooth sailing. Sunday’s performance included occasional pitch problems between the instruments and distant singers and one false start, from which Wolff quickly recovered.

But none of it took away from the musically inspired sense of beauty and majesty and wonder, which is what the holidays are all about. Manchester continues to be rewarded by this group’s persistent attention to programming music of quality and performing it well.

• Sing-along time: What’s apparently the only-known area Messiah sing-along this year will take place on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2:30 p.m. at Bedford Presbyterian Church, 4 Church Road in Bedford. The free concert featuring sacred and holiday music by Georg Frideric Handel will include a sing-along of sections of Messiah, the composer’s famous oratorio and the Jesus Christ Superstar of the 18th century. Open to all music lovers, the performance is designed for amateur, professional or “in the shower” singers, and for those who prefer merely to listen. In lieu of ticket charges, donations will be accepted at the door. Soloists are Angelynne Hinson, soprano and Melinda McMahon, mezzo-soprano, tenor Edward Hinson and David Cushing, bass. The performance also features Bedford Presbyterian Music Director, organist Barbara Flocco and conductor Nancy M. Brown. Call 472-5871 or visit www.bpcnh.org. 

• Holiday concert: Manchester Community Music School will present its December Family Concert Series event, A Holiday Concert, on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. at 2291 Elm St. The event will include performances by the MCMS flute choirs, flutist Aubrie Dionne, vocalist Gene Faxon, pianist Eve Kodiak, and others. The concert will be an eclectic gathering of familiar and traditional Christmas carols, Hannukah songs, a seasonal folk play, “Saint George and the Dragon,” and more performed by students and faculty of the school, community members, and audience participation. Children will have a chance to act to a traditional English holiday song, “There was a pig went out to dig on Christmas Day.” The audience will be taught rounds and carols. There will be surprises, too. This event is presented as a gift to the community. Admission is free and the public is welcome; for more information, call 644-4548.

• Oratorio in Concord: In one of the more ambitious holiday programs in the area, the Concord Chorale will cut loose this weekend with a performance of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. and again on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. Performances are at South Congregational Church in Concord; for tickets or info, call 224-0770.

• More from the music school: What’s for lunch? Next week, it’s music. Manchester Community Music School presents Music at Noon, Wednesday,  Dec. 15 at the Center of New Hampshire Radisson Hotel. Soprano Svetlana Pailler and pianist Mila Filatova will perform music including a selection from Rossini’s Stabat Mater, “Mon Coeur” from Samson and Delila by Saint-Sans, a romance by Tchaikovsky, Italian folk songs, and a selection of seasonal songs. The concert is free and open to the public.

• Madrigals and more: An unusual holiday concert will be given in Manchester on Wednesday, Dec. 15 when vocalists from “The Crown’s Delight, a Madrigalian Feast” will sing Christmas music at St. Andrew’s Church, 102 North Main St., at 7 p.m. (It’s right next to West High School.) Admission is free for the 7 p.m. performance, but donations are accepted. The group, made up of vocalists from auditioned New Hampshire choruses, first came together 10 years ago to sing madrigals, the pop music of the Renaissance. As such, they truly bring new meaning to the term “golden oldie” as they present in lively fashion some of the greatest music ever written for the enjoyment of common folk and royalty alike. Performing primarily a cappella, the group is sometimes accompanied by recorder and other period instruments.

! A sleighful o’ music: In Nashua, get in the spirit by attending “Holiday Glow,” the Nashua Symphony and Choral Society’s annual performance of seasonal favorites for voice and orchestra. This year’s concerts, led by new associate conductor Richard A.A. Larraga, are at Immaculate Conception Church on Friday, Dec. 10 and at Grace Fellowship Church in downtown Nashua on Saturday, Dec. 11; the music starts at 8 p.m. each night. Join the gang as they run through a sleigh full of holiday favorites, including Rutter’s Magnificat, Handel’s Entrance of the Queen of Sheba, an arrangement of the Pachelbel canon, and a holiday sing-along. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children under 18. Order by phone at 595-9156 or visit www.nashuasymphony.org.

! Philharmonic encore: Fresh off their holiday pops concert at the Palace Theater on Thanksgiving weekend, the New Hampshire Philharmonic plays a holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 12 up in Concord at the Capitol Center for the Arts. Guest artist is children’s author Tomie dePaola, who will tell favorite stories to go along with the music. Tickets are $13 per person, but seniors and students can get in for just $8. For more info, call 225-1111 or visit www.ccanh.com.

! Last-minute pops: In Concord, the New Hampshire Symphony brings its own dose of holiday cheer to the Merrimack Valley with a concert of holiday favorites on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 3 p.m. at the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord. Conductor Kenneth Kiesler leads the group in favorites that might be just what you need for a little last-minute infusion of holiday cheer. Tickets are $15 to $39, with discounts for seniors and students. For more info, call 225-1111 or visit www.ccanh.com.

! Dueling concerts: Call it the great holiday pops stare-down. Just as the New Hampshire Symphony is playing a holiday pops concert in Concord (see above), so too will the Concord-based Granite State Symphony at exactly the same time — Sunday, Dec. 19 at 3 p.m., only in City Auditorium across town. Conductor Robert Babb will lead the group in holiday favorites. Tickets are $10 to $25, with student/senior discounts. All kids age 12 and under can get in for $5 each. For tickets, call 226-4776 or visit www.gsso.org.

! And then there’s Keith: If music by local groups isn’t your thing, then there’s always the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra Holiday Concert on Saturday, Dec. 11 in Manchester. The touring arm of the Pops, under the direction of matinee idol Keith Lockhart, will make its now-annual appearance at the cavernous arena for one concert only at 7:30 p.m. Who can resist the chance to hear holiday music in a gigantic space with all the acoustics of an airplane hanger? Plus high ticket prices ensure a steady flow of money back to Symphony Hall in Boston, which stages the holiday Pops tours around New England as a reliable cash cow. If it’s your cup of tea, tickets are $41 through $61.

! Calling all future soloists: Hey high school musicians, how’d you like to be backed up by a full symphony orchestra? Make the fantasy come true by entering the New Hampshire Philharmonic’s annual Youth Concerto Competition. If you win, you’ll be a featured soloist at a concert during the orchestra’s 2005-06 season. It’s the third year of the competition, which is open to students who are New Hampshire residents and who have not yet entered their senior year in high school. Applicants are invited to submit a CD for review by the Philharmonic prior to the deadline of Jan. 14. Finalists for the competition will be announced on Jan. 30. During the final competition, which will take place at the Manchester Community School in Manchester on March 5, 2005, each participant will play a classical piece of his or her own choosing before a jury of professional music educators. Applications are available at the orchestra’s web site, www.nhphil.org. The winner of the competition will be announced at the close of Philharmonic Week on March 12, 2005. Last year’s competition resulted in finalists from Hanover, Plymouth, Bow, Hooksett, Derry and Hollis. Previous winners of the Philharmonic’s youth concerto competition are Shailey Devito, flute, Derry (2003 winner) and Ellen Flanagan, violin, Hanover (2004 winner).

— Jeff Rapsis

 
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