Blue Heron: Intertwining Sacred & Secular Love

Performance of Song of Songs /
Songs of Love

Nélida Nassar  06.11.2012

From coast to coast, the 12-member vocal ensemble Blue Heron delighted audiences with a plush concert of early music. On the heel of their Berkeley, California Thursday night’s performance, we listened to them on Saturday evening at the First Church Congregational in Cambridge, MA before they repeated the same concert the following day Sunday in New York City.

Song of Song / Songs of love in sixteen century Spain was written in the third century BCE and was admitted in the canon of Hebrew Scripture towards the end of the first century CE. The program explored music from the School of Andalusia sixteen-century Spanish composers. Two amongst them are considered the greatest musicians of the century Francesco Guerrero, Tomás Luis de Victoria and Sebastian de Vivanco is an important contender. The homophonic and polyphonic work of Nicolas Gombert, Juan Vásquez and couple of anonymous songs completed the selection. The concert was divided between backdrops of the King Solomon biblical Song of Songs sung in Latin and secular love songs declaimed in Spanish. Skillfully arranged, it started with short pieces for three, four or five voices to conclude with a crescendo of eight and the entire twelve voices members favored particularly by composer Nicolas Gombert.

Longed love, worshiped love, scorned love, rejected love, physical love and spiritual love were all sung, elegized, and enshrined with love’s perennial qualities that defies ages, centuries and culture.

Blue Heron’s director, Scott Metcalfe believes this music should be sung a fourth or fifth lower than in most case, he did so bringing expressive intensity to the sensuous and lush voices even a hint of Baroque flair, to this earlier repertoire.  He allowed the individual voices to shine with a lively natural timber. All the vocal ensemble members dazzled with their brio and grace. He also included a bajón, a Renaissance relative of the bassoon played beautifully by Marilyn Boenau to provide the instrumental assistance to the larger musical pieces. Actress Kateri Chambers offered sultry, florid and gleaming readings from the Song of Songs and the English translations of poetry by Francisco de la Torre and Lope de Vega.

Song of Songs #IV lyrics particularly resonated with this listener expatriate’s heart as the name of the beloved Lebanon was cited as the land of milk and honey versus often being unfortunately equated to wars and conflicts: “Oh come with me, my bride,
Come down with me from Lebanon… Your lips are honey, honey and milk
Are under your tongue,
Your clothes hold the scent of Lebanon.”

These words were followed by Gombert’s expressive sonority motet that contained more repetition, sequence and ostinato Tota pulchra es “You are beautiful my love … come from Lebanon, my dove, come, you shall be crowned.”

Mezzo-Soprano Daniela Tosie, countertenor Martin Nera and bass-baritone Sumner Thompson’s mischievous and devilish rendition of Ginés de Morata Pues que no puedo olvidarte “Since I cannot forget you,” emphasizing the last poem’s strophe tómete el Diablo, llévete el Diablo,
el Diablo que aya en tip arte!
“May the devil take you, may the devil seize you,
may the devil win you!”
was intensely and exquisitely sung.

Da Vitoria’s piece Vidi speciosam sicut columbam “I beheld the beautiful one like a dove” had a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal while shunning the elaborate counterpoint and substituting simple line and homophonic textures with rhythmic variety and intense and surprising contrasts. In Vadam et circuibo civatatem “I will rise and go about the city” with Takis est dilectus meus “Such is my beloved, and such is my love” the Blue Heron confirmed with this motet their dual message of love for us and the music lovers they are. This was an evening that will be long remembered as where the sacred and the secular love intertwined brilliantly and harmonically.

The concert was preceded by a lecture and the group new recorded CD, the second volume of the Peterhouse series, featuring works by Nicholas Ludford and Richard Pygott was selling briskly during the intermission and following the concert.

Originally Published in Berkshire Fine Arts

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