The Viola da Gamba Takes Center Stage

United StatesUnited States Various “The Turning of the Year”: Michael Maniacci (male soprano); Annalisa Pappano, David Morris, Stephen Goist, Larry Lipnik, Joanna Blendulf (violas de gamba). Catacoustic Consort, Church of the Redeemer, Hyde Park, Cincinnati, Ohio. 26.4.2015 (RDA)

Hugh Ashton: Maske
Michael Edwards: Trio
Cipriano da Rore: Calami sonum ferentes
Carlo Gesualdo: Baci suavi
Henry Purcell: Fantasy no. 5
Tan Dun: A Sinking Love
Peter Schulthorpe: Djilile
Freda Burford: The Turn of the Year
Christopher Tye: Howld fast
Alessandro Agricola: Cecus non judicate de coloribus
Picforth: In nomine
Gavin Bryars: In nomine
Elvis Costello: Put Away Forbidden Playthings


Catacoustic Consort’s 15th season concluded with an informal afternoon titled “The Turning of the Year,” presented in Hyde Park’s Church of the Redeemer. Five viola da gamba players took up the challenge of a program that began in the early 16th century, and included contemporary works by Michael Edwards, Tan Dun, Peter Schulthorpe, Gavin Bryars and Elvis Costello.

Taking the audience through five centuries of writing for the viola da gamba, the musicians—Annalisa Pappano, David Morris, Stephen Goist, Larry Lipnik, and Joanna Blendulf—played assertively throughout, from the delicate filigree of Hugh Ashton’s Maske to the densely chromaticism of Cipriano Da Rore and Carlo Gesualdo. The latter pair were both rebellious exponents of a musical counter-culture that alarmed the conservative academicians of their time, and both were masters of a kind of chromaticism and tonal ambiguity that predated the arrival of the Second Viennese School by four centuries. Henry Purcell’s Fantasy No. 5 followed.

In the second half came a bucolic rhapsody by the lesser-known Englishwoman Freda Burford, two short pieces by Christopher Tye and Alessandro Agricola, plus a curio by Picforth (no known first name) titled In nomine, in which each of the players plays in a different meter. Interspersing the old with the new, the Catacoustic musicians next essayed Gavin Bryars similarly titled In nomine, itself a sort of minimalist riff on Purcell.

Guest artist Michael Maniacci introduced Tan Dun’s A Sinking Love and spoke about its creation and meaning. Based on a 6th century poem by Chinese poet Tao Li, the composition adopts vocal techniques from traditional Beijing Opera, including downward and upward glissandi, guttural sounds, whispers and sudden leaps into the higher territory of the soprano range—a vocal minefield. Maniacci is a male soprano (rather than a countertenor), and he sang with very good technique, suppleness and intelligence, handling the composition with aplomb.

At the end of the concert, Maniacci sang Elvis Costello’s Put Away Forbidden Playthings, and followed it with Benjamin Britten’s setting of The Salley Gardens. In both he demonstrated refined musicality, as did his colleagues in the accompaniment.

Rafael de Acha

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