Lorelei Ensemble closes season memorably with paradises lost and found

May 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

By Stefanie Lubkowski

The Lorelei Ensemble performed Friday night at Harvard University’s Memorial Church.

The Lorelei Ensemble’s season-closing program, “Fallen,” featured world premieres by Daniel Schlosberg, Sungji Hong, and Travis Alford, all setting texts addressing the evening’s theme: paradise, its loss and restoration.

Alongside these new pieces, director and conductor Beth Willer programmed works by contemporary Russian composers Friday at Harvard Unversity’s Memorial Church, their experience with the debased ideals of the Soviet regime perhaps giving them a unique perspective on paradise and its impossibility.

The evening started with Emily Marvosh’s subtly shaded rendition of Aus dem Visionen der Hildegard von Bingen by Sofia Gubaidulina. This stark, unornamented solo was full of both anticipatory and restful space both in its sense of phrasing and the wide leaps of the line, which Marvosh navigated with remarkable ease.

Daniel Schlosberg provided the first world premiere of the evening with so we must journey around the world, his setting of a text by philosopher Heinrich von Kleist. This lovely work made a clear journey from its beginning as a single line to a denser web of polyphonic imitation through an accumulation of rapid and roving ornaments.

Willer’s flowing precision kept the ensemble in almost superhuman sync as the ornaments were added to the unison section, and maintained a wonderful balance and pacing as the lines diverged. Schlosberg created an admirable climax in which the separate lines soared to their heights in succession. The unwavering lushness of Schlosberg’s writing undercut some of the power inherent in the work’s trajectory yet this remains a distinctive and satisfying work.

In contrast, the aims of Sungji Hong’s Ficus enim non Florebit were perhaps more modest, but also more clearly rendered. Subtle progress from unison to polyphony lingered on the individual sonorities, fully immersing the listener in Hong’s gorgeous harmonies. Lorelei’s equally nuanced performance, in which solo voices gracefully moved in and out of the ensemble sound, further invited the audience to be very much in the moment.

Travis Alford’s O Fragile Human Speak…, a setting for eight voices and three trumpets of excerpts from Hildegard von Bingen’s Scivias, a chronicle of her divine visions, was the dramatic apex of the evening. The opening gesture followed the path of Hildegard’s musical aesthetic, then quickly filled it out with complex contemporary harmony before blossoming into a truly sublime rendering of the terror and wonder of otherworldly experience.

Alford’s masterful combination and juxtaposition of textures ranging from simple homophony to the controlled chaos of semi-improvisatory textures built from repeated motivic fragments never shied away from expressive extremes and created an engrossing narrative flow. The seamless weaving of trumpets and voices achieved by the ensemble was particularly compelling and contributed mightily to Alford’s visceral depictions of the spiritual realm overpowering the corporeal.

Preceding O Fragile Human Speak…, trumpet players Chris Belluscio, Jonah Kappraff, and Paul Perfetti took the spotlight with Gubaidulina’s Trio for Three Trumpets, proving they could match the agile phrasing and beautiful timbres of Lorelei in their performance of this angular, layered, and satisfying showcase for brass.

The eight movements of Yuri Yukechev’s cantata My Heart is Ready were interspersed among the premieres. This pleasant, palate-cleansing setting of psalms by King David offered few musically striking passages, but provided ample opportunity for the ensemble to show off the amazing tone, balance, and interpretation that makes them one of the best vocal groups in Boston.

Likewise, the concert closer, Pavel Chesnokov’s Salvation is Created, another psalm setting, provided a placid epilogue of rounded harmony and phrasing. After enthusiastic applause, Lorelei performed a lovely arrangement of “Bogo Roditsye Devo,”from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, as an encore.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. loreleiensemble.com

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