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Friday, Dec. 14, 2012

Celebrating Christmas Early

Boston Camerata’s Medieval Holiday Music

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The Early Music Now December concert has become a wonderful local tradition. An audience of 600 gathered Saturday evening in the acoustically pleasing St. Joseph Center Chapel to hear The Boston Camerata, joined by Milwaukee Choral Artists, for “A Medieval Christmas.” Songs and chants in various languages from all over Europe showcased a variety of musical styles, from Gregorian traditions (beginning in the 8th century) through the 13th century.

The Boston Camerata is led by director Anne Azéma, a pure-voiced soprano with likable charisma and dramatic flair. She was more than ably joined by soprano Anne Harley, mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore, vielle player Michelle Levy, and Tom Zajac playing winds and psaltery, a string instrument of the Middle Ages. Milwaukee Choral Artists frequently joined the soloists, enhancing the texture of vocal sounds. The second half of the concert told the Christmas story in song and text readings, some in antiquated languages.

One of the oldest and most established of early music ensembles, The Boston Camerata makes deeply informed scholarship lively, spontaneous and vivid. The entire experience richly highlighted both the commonalities with our modern perceptions of Christmas and the exotic aesthetics and points of view of the Medieval European mind.  

 

Christopher Taylor’s Rendition of Messiaen

On Friday evening, Piano Arts, a local organization that primarily sponsors a biennial concerto competition, presented its first professional guest artist recital at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The internationally acclaimed concert pianist Christopher Taylor was featured in one of his specialties: Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant-Jésus (20 Contemplations of the Infant Jesus). This was one of the most spectacular performances by any solo musician I have ever witnessed.

Messiaen, motivated by highly personal Roman Catholic mysticism, explored the piano like none other, making extreme demands of the player. Taylor was at one with this complex two-hour work. His enormous intellectual, technical and musical grasp of this eccentric masterpiece coaxed every possible color and tone from the Steinway—from angular iciness, to ecstatic chatter, to majestic roaring, to sweetest tenderness. The composition expresses awe in all its angles and this revelatory performance of it was no less awe-inspiring. Taylor was astounding and phenomenal.
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