The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 15, 2002


Music review Song of Songs featured at chamber music concert

The Cambridge Society for Early Music (CSEM), presented its final Carlisle concert of the season on March 7 at Union Hall. Featured were three superb female singers from the group Tapestry. Two outstanding musicians, a percussionist, and a harp and vielle player, joined the group.

The program evolved from texts of the Biblical Song of Songs, richly sensual love poems set in Jerusalem in the springtime. The Hebrew dates from 300 BCE or before. From our interview with the director, mezzo-soprano Laurie Monahan, we learned that, for more than a year, the singers had been studying Ashkenazic (Eastern European) liturgical Hebrew chants of the Songs. Each cantillation was followed by a setting of the same or related poems, by composers as diverse as the English Abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) and four twentieth century composers, including Shira Kammen. She played harp and vielle with the group, and sometimes joined the singing.

In addition, Tapestry created three works, selecting a variety of songs in Latin from each of three medieval European collections: from Worcester, England, St. Martial, southern France and Wienhauser, Germany. Each was preceded by an appropriate Hebrew liturgical cantillation.

The concert began with two of the three singers standing apart in front of the audience. The vielle (a stubby, five stringed, mellow sounding fiddle, tuned for this music to D and A) started to play. When it stopped, the silence was broken by the pure high tones of a Hebrew song from the back of the hall, sung by Daniela Tosic, alto. Gradually, the singers approached each other, adding the voices of Monahan and soprano Cristi Catt. The ensembles of the two or three voices, with and without instruments, were outstanding. The music itself, said the director, demands pure tone, which can only be achieved with little or no vibrato. The group's intonation was so perfect that even the occasional quarter tone intervals of voices and strings were crystal clear.

Throughout the evening the singers used the room and its excellent acoustics to good advantage for a variety of effects. Particularly appealing was the antiphonal singing between Tosic and Monahan in front, and Catt echoing phrases from the side wall.

A highlight of the program was the improvisations between Kammen on the vielle and Takaaki Masuko, the percussionist. The melodies of Kammen's various improvisations were based on French and Turkish folk tunes. Her playing on both vielle and harp was energetic and expressive.

Masuko mesmerized the audience with his virtuoso playing on a large flat drum, a pottery and fish skin hourglass shaped tabla, and a Turkish hourglass shaped dumbeck. This mature artist told us that he has played all kinds of percussion in jazz, in classical (he played triangle in the Osaka Philharmonic), and on folk guitar. Now he has chosen to express himself with only his hands on the simplest of instruments. The variety of textures and tones he evoked with his hands was astonishing.

The concert was a wonderful musical experience. The highly talented performers sampled two millennia of music and poetry in a unique presentation of songs of love. The audience responded with enthusiasm.

The only constructive criticism we can offer is that the audience would have appreciated translations of the songs and poems.

Plans for next season

CSEM continues to bring the highest quality early music performers and performances to our doorstep. James Nicholson, CSEM President, announced plans for next season's three presentations. They will feature a string quartet performing on early instruments, a baroque lutenist, and a twelve member early Renaissance vocal ensemble. We look forward to another successful season.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito