A Medieval Space Proves Ideal For Venerable Early Music Ensemble

United StatesUnited States Rameau, Charpentier, Leclair, Poulenc, de Manchicourt: Amor Artis / Ryan James Brandau (artistic director and conductor), Church of the Holy Trinity, New York City. 4.3.2017. (DS)     

Amor Artis – Madeline Apple Healey (soprano), Luthien Brackett and Sarah Nelson Craft (mezzo-soprano), Alex Guerrero and Michael Steinberger (tenor), Richard Holmes (bass), Jacob Ashworth (violin), Chloe Fedor (violin), Ezra Seltzer (violoncello) & James Kennerley (organ)

(Plainchant)Salve Regina
RameauSalve Regina a trios choeurs
CharpentierLitanies de la Vierge
Leclair – Sonata for Two Violins, Op.12, No.5
PoulencQuatre petites prieres de Saint Francois de Assise ; Litanies a la Vierge Noire ; Quatre motets pour en temps de penitence
Pierre de ManchicourtO Crux Splendidior

It’s no one’s favorite combination: 30-degree weather on a March Saturday afternoon and the train you need is down for repairs – with twenty minutes to make it to a concert. After rushing on foot up Amsterdam Avenue, I entered both frozen and sweating into the Church of the Holy Trinity. Instantly, the warmth of the light brown geometric brickwork of this inviting medieval space – a unique example of Byzantine revival architecture in Manhattan – transported me beyond worldly problems of weather and subway delays.

The program, titled “French Masterworks,” was typical for Amor Artis, an early music ensemble now over 50 years old, which finds some of the most noteworthy churches – hidden gems around the city. Travails of the urban outdoors fell away as the singers stood in crescent formation for resonant 17th and 18th-century plainchants. The soloists in Charpentier’s Litanies de la Vierge filled the central dome and arched Romanesque passageways with soft, gliding tones. Moving along in centuries, Poulenc’s music graced the second half of the program. Quatre petites prieres de Saint Francois de Assise was presented with thoughtful blending tonalities by the male singers. The women followed with a dramatic performance of Litanies of the Black Virgin from the upstairs gallery, which included the church’s organ bellowing forth. Director Ryan James Brandau brought the performance to its climax with Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour en temps de penitence, filled with emotion and moodiness, which suddenly tempers, and the choir handled the changes adeptly and vigorously. But everything closed on a soothing Renaissance vespers by Pierre de Manchicourt.

A shorter, intermission-less concert turned out to be perfect for this particular Saturday afternoon, and Brandau’s magnetic program built momentum as it proceeded; not every performance need overshoot two hours. To give the singers a break, the violinists played works from Jean-Marie Leclair’s duos as palette-cleansing sorbets. Even the church’s floorplan contributed to the pleasure. In this medieval space, the group stood underneath the dome and near the audience, rather than at the far length of a Gothic cathedral nave. The sound filled the rounded space and maintained its harmonic integrity, which was particularly important in the works after the Poulenc.

Daniele Sahr

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