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A Glorious Crescendo

It’s a shock, nearly 400 years later, to see what sway sacred music must have had over 17th-century life, how its drama, its theatricality, awed and humbled people, keeping them in church and probably in their place, too.

Certainly, Crescendo’s performance this weekend of Heinrich Biber’s grand "Requiem à 15," heraldic and sometimes chilling, made clear how stunning a tool this might have been for the church and the aristocracy.

Even today, a profoundly theatrical performance like this can awaken notions of penitance, transcendance and eternity in any of us. And Christine Gevert assembled a mighty collection of musicians and singers to accompany her Crescendo Chorus for Sunday’s performance of this rarely heard work at Trinity Church in Lime Rock.

Ben Harms opened the Introitus with a timpanic rumble he wrote for the event, just clearing the way for the various Baroque-style strings, the trumpets, sackbuts and oboes and the lovely theorbo, a complex version of the lute, that make the forceful, sometimes strident often sweet, and occasionally sorrowful sounds we want to hear in these period works.

And the singers and six soloists, which included counter tenor Martin Near — what a treat — made the small church building resonate with glorious open, straight and sometimes dissonant chords.

Now Gevert is a daring woman, drawing together pros and amateurs in a stupendously ambitious performance, but she is a real innovator as well, opening the program with selections from Carlo Gesualdo’s "Tenebrae: Responsoria," written in 1611. This unaccompanied work for voice is centered on the darkness following the crucifixion and was performed here by six men and six women — a stark, exposed and sometimes strange piece. Adding to the theaterworks were narrator Douglas Freedman and 15 candles extinguished one by one throughout the work, leaving a single one (accidentally two as it turned out) alight at the end.

And between the singers stood Rodrigo Tarraza improvizing jazzy and penetrating riffs on a soprano saxophone or on an electric wind instrument, sometimes mimicking the singers, sometimes flying on his own.

It was an original and moving performance, dedicated, it seemed, to the glory of vocal and all other chords.

— Marsden Epworth



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