Two gifts were bestowed upon me this Christmastide. The first, the arrival of a subtle and finely-tuned vocal ensemble, Auriel Camerata, Deirdre Michael, Executive Director, was very welcome. This group, comprised of singers from as far away as Boston, showed great skill in their recent concert in Glenville, New York. There was no over-singing, tuning was excellent, and the selections were not only enjoyable, but inventive. Artistic Director and Conductor Derek Stannard was the impassioned leader of the flock. The repertoire was carefully chosen and adventurous. Tomás Luis de Victoria’s famous O Magnum Mysterium, by example, was paired with Francis Poulenc’s setting of the same text. I enjoyed the singing of Claudia Feeney in “There is no Rose.” Hers was a clear unforced sound, deeply felt and beautifully expressed in her face and manner. This was a voice which seemed to fit the music ideally. There is an excellent future in store for this ensemble. It fills a large gap in our cultural life. An ensemble of this size gives us the great pleasure of listening to a group activity which allows individual sounds.
Just a fantastic concert by the Berkshire Bach Ensemble this year, for New Year’s. A certain sadness was attached—Joseph Silverstein, usually called Joey, died very suddenly a few weeks ago, a mentor to several in the group and to me. This concert was anything but sad. It absolutely thrilled, rhythmically. The joy the players had hearing their sounds go out in Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was palpable. It was wonderful to hear first-rate players, not usually associated with the early music movement, playing lightly and energetically with their own techniques. Nothing about the concert was heavy—far from it. During the Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, for example, it was hard to sit still. I loved the lack of affectation in it all. The hall was packed; the audience, when they weren’t dancing (almost impossible not to), were having a great time. This is the power of Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer who can write a melody like “Erbarme dich” in the Matthew Passion (I heard this played superbly by Maestro Silverstein in Symphony Hall), and come up with a movement that will make you trot your feet for joy. This was one of the best concerts of the year.