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Rose Ensemble’s Rich Vocal Blend at Early Music Now Concert

Dec. 12, 2016
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One of the area’s welcome holiday events is the Early Music Now December concert. On Saturday at the unusual but pleasant starting time of 5 p.m., the Rose Ensemble performed to a full house audience in Saint Joseph Center Chapel, one of the least known but most distinguished spaces in town. With its very high arched ceiling, its acoustics are ideal for choral music.

This was the fifth time the St. Paul based Rose Ensemble has appeared on the Early Music Now series. Medieval and Renaissance works were sung by ten terrific singers in various combinations, each configuration revealing a sophisticated blend of voices. Rich, expressive solos came from nearly every singer at some point. Highlights from the many pieces on the program: the majestic longing of Jan Tollius’ “Vidi civitatem sanctam”; Orlando di Lasso’s “Sicut rosa inter spinas” and its unearthly high angelic soprano line; and the exciting sound of the Italian Renaissance at its height in Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Surge, illuminare, Jerusalem.” Most of the concert was a cappella, but a few pieces featured harp, vielle (a forerunner of the violin), and percussion.

The first half closed with the premiere of a commissioned piece by Victor Zupanc, “A Brighter Ray,” about the Scandinavian December tradition of Santa Lucia. Long airy whistles and windchimes conjured winter, and the music included a sort of yelp called kulning in Sweden and Norway. Soloists sang above murmuring sounds and an occasional spoken “hey!” It’s a good new piece, with colorful, warm harmony.

Earlier in the week I heard excellent chamber music from Prometheus Trio at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Pianist Stefanie Jacob played with brilliant tone in Franz Josef Haydn’s bright, happy Trio in C Major (Hob. XV: 27). The regular members of the group, violinist Margot Schwartz and cellist Scott Tisdel, were joined by guest violist Wendy Richman in a persuasive account of Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C minor, and what a great piece it is. Richman, Schwartz and Tisdel also played Erno Dohnányi’s Serenade, Op. 10.

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