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Notes from the Dead

New York
Catacomb, Greenwood Cemetery
06/24/2019 -  & June 25, 26, 2019
“Epilogues & Epitaphs”:
Robert de Visée: Suite No. 10: “La Plainte ou Tombeau de Mesdemoiselles de Visée, Allemande de Mr leur Père”
Henry Purcell: O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice
Arcangelo Corelli: Violin Sonata in C Major, Op. 5 No. 3
Jean-Féry Rebel: Tombeau de Lully
George Frederic Handel: Jephtha, HWV 70: “Waft her angels through the skies” Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a: “Tu del Ciel”
Antonio Vivaldi: La Folia
John Dowland: Now, o now, I needs most part

Voyage Sonique: Daniel Moody (Counter-tenor), Augusta McKay Lodge, Jeffrey Girton (Violins), Keiran Campbell (Cellist), Adam Cockerham (Theorbo/Lute), Robert Warner (Harpsichordist)

Voyage Sonique (© Augusta McKay Lodge)

Funerals all over the world everywhere every minute.
Shovelling them under by the cartload doublequick.
Thousands every hour. Too many in the world.

― James Joyce, from Hades (Episode Six) from Ulysses

Andrew Ousley’s introduction to last night’s “Angel’s Share” program noted that the concerts were not for mourning “but for remembrances.” Which is not easy to do in the Catacombs of 180-year-old Greenwood Cemetery. Each of the alcoves in this dimly-lit cave is a family tomb, outside are tens of thousands of tombstones, mausoleums, and cenotaphs. Whether Mr. Ousley likes it or not, Greenwood is for the dead. We, his constantly enlarging audience, live, the music lives. But are vastly outnumbered.

This enormous success for “The Angel’s Share” (named after the evaporated portion of whiskey) has been a triumph for Mr. Ousley. But inevitably, in the Catacomb, we had a notable loss. Originally, we would sit in these gloomy chambers facing the stage, listening to the music as it should be heard. Now, audiences sit on both sides of the stage, and the musicians face one of the alcoves. Thus an inevitable loss of auditory perfection.

Granted, counter-tenor Daniel Moody made the effort to change his stance, to face our different elements. But within the so-delicate “sound-box” of the Catacomb, the result like listening to a different hi-fi speaker at different times.

Then too, this writer was fortunate to be on the “violin” side of the dais, with Ms. Lodge and Mr. Girton giving full brunt to their performances. Others facing the theorbo and cello heard some remarkable artists, yet the balance was hardly perfect.

Considering that the hour-long Epilogues and Epitaphs gave such a compact and forceful performance, this was a scintilla of a problem. Augusta McKay Lodge and her Voyage Sonique ensemble arranged a program especially for such a venue. Neither morbid nor ostentatiously applause–invoking.

The two tombeaux were celebrations of notable deceased. The one Corelli Sonata was not his familiar Folia, but a Church sonata which was simply beautiful. The three songs for counter-tenor flaunted few trills or showoffy apparatus.

So this was not a Early Baroque For Dummies. It was a program of pure elegance.

Such taste was shown in the bookend works. The first, a Tombeau by the renowned 18th Century guitarist Robert de Visée (renowned in his day: I had never heard of him), was for solo theorboist Adam Cockerham, and it set the stage for this elegance. Quietly virtuosic, almost prayerful, with a few slow dances, some extraordinary fingerwork.

The other Tombeau was by Jean-Féry Rebel, this for his teacher Jean-Baptiste Lully. Perhaps he quoted from Lully but more probably M. Rebel had devised laments and dances, mood pieces and song for the Sun-God’s great composer.

The second piece was again understated. Counter-tenor Daniel Moody does not have the sharp flamboyance of an old castrato. It was understated, pure, notes chosen wisely, correctly. In all four works–including the final “epilogue” by John Dowland–one didn’t feel the awe for a virtuoso but the quieter respect for a simply beautiful voice.

And I must say that the four most ravishing measures in the entire evening were the those played by violinist McKay Lodge for the introduction of Handel’s Tu del Ciel.

The middle of this concert was for the entire ensemble. They are of course all virtuosos, but one felt this only a single time, in Vivaldi’s familiar Folia, an ancient dance as well known as Greensleeves, a glorious piece for everybody from 13th Century troubadors to Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Vivaldi was stunning not only for invention but for skill from all the players. Cellist Keiran Campbell had been basically a continuo-ist until this time, but his fingers were ravishing here. Second Violin Jeffrey Girton had some dazzling duets with Ms. Lodge, and the whole ensemble gave a full-hearted performance here.

The Corelli Violin Sonata was part of twelve works which made Corelli a very rich man. No, he didn’t invent a lot of Paganini tricks. But he did use the violin to the max of its possibilities for the time.

Originally written for soloist and simple bass line, this version was composed for a full ensemble of theorbo, harpsichord and continuo. Ms. Lodge gave them equal import, never venturing to a 21st Century ostentation. Initially, I thought she was using an antique violin, for she never attempted a terribly wide range of tone colors, we had no excessive vibrato, no improvisation between the last two movements. Rather, Ms. Lodge played the Corelli with–what seemed to be–a quiet respect. Then again, for a chiesa (church) sonata, that was probably correct.

By the finish, with Dowland’s lovely lament still in my ears, it was time to saunter home through the cemetery. The flambeaux were a nice touch, but actually superfluous, since the path was glowing with millions of horny fireflies, looking for a live mate, and oblivious to the plethora of James Joyce’s “shovelled” dead.

Harry Rolnick



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