By Elise Rotchford
Saint Cecilia, the musicians’ patron saint, blessed the evening with her celestial powers as Ensemble Monterey and the Cantiamo! singers performed music of the baroque and 20th century at the Carmel Mission last Saturday. The blend of instrumentation, poetry and music in the 240-year-old basilica demanded transportation to the 18th century yet with a futuristic flavor. Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) Rejoice in the Lamb opened with the choir floating in unison above the polymetric organ accompaniment. Cheryl Anderson (pictured) conducted the sforzandos with expressive precision. For the text Britten chose the endearingly eccentric poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart (1722-1771) now recognized as a religious poet who wrote it while in a mental institution. His works are wry and rather comical as in the line, “For I am possessed of a cat, [Jeoffrey] surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God.” Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia is a work of dense, lush harmonies set to the verses of W.H. Auden. A master of diction, Anderson has fine-tuned her choir so that every word of the text was completely understood even through rapid passages. Jessica Hetnick’s solo soprano is bright and clear with an early music style (slightly faster vibrato) which worked beautifully within the church acoustics. Hetnick and the others soprano voices achieved an angelic sound in the recurring passage at the end of each section, “Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire.” In the Hymn, dedicated to Britten, the poet exhorts the composer to “wear your tribulation like a rose,” in other words, to be out of the closet with his homosexuality.
The second half of the concert opened with Hail! Bright Cecilia composed by Henry Purcell (1659–1695). It’s 17th century party music scored for baroque orchestra and chorus with the addition of a bass flute. The annual St. Cecilia’s Day celebration was one of the most popular musical events in late 17th century London. The Ode to St. Cecilia would be the work of a different composer and poet every year. In 1692 Purcell was asked to write it using text by Nicholas Brady. Purcell was considered the finest and most original composer of his day. You hear his contrapuntal mastery in the Overture which features an ingenious fugue. The following twelve movements offer a variety of solos, duets, trios and choruses. Michele Rivard sang the fourth movement, a recitative for solo alto, “‘Tis Nature’s Voice.” With cello and harpsichord the piece is full of vocal trills and runs all precisely articulated with the accompaniment in perfect time. The work includes soprano solo with chorus, a bass solo and a duet for two basses. John Anderson has been the music director for Ensemble Monterey since its inception in 1992. The musicians are of the highest caliber and over the years have continued to grow into a tightly knit group. Maestro Anderson never fails to perform his world class artistry through the presentation of the most compelling works in the classical repertoire, from ancient to modern.