CONCERT REVIEW Falling Out of Love, Italian Style

The MIT Chamber Chorus Performs Italian Madrigals

MIT Chamber Chorus

William Cutter, Conductor

Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge, MA

November 21, 2009

Far more than being in love, falling out of love seems to be a popular topic of music. Various iterations of the break-up song have been written for nearly two thousand years and set to music for a far shorter time, never more cleverly and expressively than the Italian masters nearly five hundred years ago. The MIT Chamber Chorus provided a glimpse into the panoply of techniques and expositions of these musicians.

The newly-enamored were certainly invited, but the concert seemed especially geared towards the lovelorn, both chronic and temporary. Saturday evening’s concert descended from bliss to desolation in three parts. The first, First Love / Infatuation, presented a romantic love at its happiest, reveling in lust and romantic infatuation. As in life, this too could not last: Saturday’s concert continued to the Disillusioned / Confused portion of the program; poignant, moving portrayals of yearning jilted lovers that resolve in despair. The ensemble came to the inevitable conclusion of all things related to love, performing madrigals that could be described as nothing other than Bitter / Hateful: vengeful, acerbic textures and harmonies replaced the once-blissful optimism of romantic love.

Saturday’s musical journey was particularly well-presented. Madrigals are difficult pieces to perform: there’s many ways to skin the cat and many of them seem to work, although each of them lend their own subtleties. Full ensemble performances of works by Phillipe de Monte, Vincenzo Bellavere Claudio Monteverdi, Luca Marenzio, Gaiches de Wert, and Carlo Gesualdo were performed with a surprisingly supple touch, the relatively large ensemble responding remarkably sensitively to subtle changes in time signature, dynamic and mood. Small ensemble performances were none different, yet offered a sharp contrast in texture and mood: groups of three or four performers negotiated the often-harrowing harmonic landscape in remarkably intimate and sensitive interpretations of the works of the Italian school of madrigal composition.

Perhaps most interesting of Saturday’s concert was the collection of solo pieces performed by the ensemble’s members, accompanied by Karen Harvey on the piano. Although not necessarily of the Renaissance period (in addition to the sixteenth century Caccini, Baroque, Classical and even bel canto composers made brief appearances throughout the evening), these solo works offered yet another texture narrating the dramatic tale underlying Saturday’s concert. In addition to nuanced and informed performances by Adrianna Tam ’11 (Alto), Nozomi Ando ’01 (Soprano), Jason Ku G (Tenor), Thomas Coffee G (Baritone), and Huan Zheng G (Soprano), solo work by Yelena Bagdasarova ’10 (Soprano) deserves special mention — a remarkably moving interpretation of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Caldo Sangue that managed to garner genuine emotion against the harrowing technical acrobatics of the music.

Carlo Gesualdo’s stunningly tormented Languisco e moro (a stunning performance of a beautiful work, repeated as an encore) ended Saturday evening’s descent from first love to acrimonious disillusionment. Gesualdo’s extended harmonic language highlights chromatic tensions that resolve to their unexpected conclusions almost as erotic release. It is only to the Chamber Choir’s credit that the work came as alive as it did. Gesualdo’s work is tragic, to say the least, but after an evening of bitter disappointment and loss, Gesualdo’s madrigal introduced a faint glimmer of joy; playing with the Renaissance imagery of fatality as sexual climax, Gesualdo’s madrigal seemed to whisper at the conclusion of Saturday evening’s concert: “Now should you be merciful, it is sweet to die.”

If only all our most trying exploits ended so well.