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March 28, 2008

Absence of artifice distinguishes a capella choir

Columbus Dispatch (OH):

The Renaissance came alive again tonight at the Pontifical College Josephinum as Early Music in Columbus presented Pomerium, a 14-voice a cappella choir founded in 1972 by conductor Alexander Blachly. Titled “Musica Vaticana, 1503-1534,” Pomerium's program featured a collection of 16th-century papal music, many parts of which were performed in the Sistine Chapel in the time of Michelangelo's service.

As should be expected, the selections were richly textured, dripping with reverence and nobility. Most pieces were scored with five- or six-part polyphony, which creates an interesting complexity without muddiness. Pomerium's singers worked well with the St. Turibus chapel's acoustics, even though they occasionally suffered ghostly interference from music in other parts of the building.

Pomerium's uniqueness lies in its singers' lack of artifice. Unlike many popular early-music performers, they do not exaggerate their articulation and dynamics to underscore stylistic effects. Instead, they take a straightforward approach that results in a sound both true to tradition and strikingly modern.

Their overall sense of ensemble improved throughout the evening, although the tenors and altos never completely lost their eagerness to bark out the cantus firmus lines in exposed places.

Their only real challenge seemed to be in Josquin Desprez's Virto salutiferi; the men seemed to work harder than they needed to, and the tempo seemed to waver on the verge of dragging. The group's best performances were with the works of composer Costanzo Festa, whose Inviolata, integra et casta in particular, while lengthy, held the audience's unwavering attention from beginning to end.

Unfortunately for most modern audiences, Renaissance music is not so much an acquired taste as a delicacy to be enjoyed in smaller amounts. Unless one is an early-music aficionado, an entire program from just four decades is just so many shades of beige, no matter how beautiful the presentation.

Fortunately, however, Columbus has a good number of enthusiastic early-music aficionados who were willing to brave another cold night to fill the chapel and enjoy the performance.

Posted by acapnews at March 28, 2008 10:30 PM

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