Third Coast Baroque debuts with a unique, illuminating Spanish program

Mon Nov 07, 2016 at 12:17 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Conductor Rubén Dubrovsky led the debut concert of Third Coast Baroque Sunday at the Columbus Park Refectory.
Conductor Rubén Dubrovsky led the debut concert of Third Coast Baroque Sunday at the Columbus Park Refectory.

Third Coast Baroque gave its inaugural performance Sunday night at the Columbus Park Refectory on the west side. The new early music ensemble’s debut program was entitled “¡Sarabanda!” and examined cross-cultural influences and resonances in the sacred music of Claudio Monteverdi and Gaspar Fernandez (ca. 1570-1629).

Under the leadership of artistic director Rubén Dubrovsky, the intimate evening was a faultless blend of accomplished performance and adroit scholarship that was emotionally compelling and educationally edifying.

Third Coast Baroque’s forces comprised six singers—three men and three women—and six instrumentalists forming a consort of violins, gamba, harpsichord, bass, and percussion. Third Coast Baroque indicates its mission is “to share the aesthetic of Baroque music while unlocking its relevance for today’s audiences,” which is exemplified in the ensemble’s motto: “Reframing Early Music.” The composer pairing accomplished these goals, as the juxtaposition of the towering Monteverdi with the largely unknown Fernandez questions the perhaps spurious grounds on which history awards fame.

The Portuguese-born Fernandez worked primarily in Latin America where he was influenced by the music of the African slave population, making his oeuvre a melting pot of global influences. A unifying element between his and Monteverdi’s works was the entrance of dance rhythms into sacred music, suggesting a murkier line between the holy and profane than is generally assumed. 

Dubrovsky articulated this and much more in comments interspersed throughout the performance, which were, like his conducting, incisive and engaging. He led the evening off with Fernandez’s Dan dan dan, fuego en la casa de Adán, a festive romp in which tenor Matthew Dean sang with nimble strength and poise.

Much of the program paired Fernandez selections with excerpts from Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale, a sort of “greatest hits” compilation from his time at Venice’s San Marco. Monteverdi’s Crucifixus SV 259 found the vocalists drawing out suavely descending chromatic lines, and was followed by Fernandez’s No haya más dulce alegría. Though this work has a Catholic text it features clearly Sephardic Jewish musical textures, in which alto Angela Young Smucker’s sultry soaring lines were especially piquant. 

Fernandez’s Dame albricia, mano Antón is based on a Christmas song Guyanese slaves sang in Mexico. The work was a festive, sunny mélange for voice and percussion and found Dubrovsky himself contributing on mounted drum. Monteverdi’s Deus tuorum militum secondo SV 280 featured stately, poised contributions from TCB’s three male singers—tenors Dean and Nolan Carter, and bass Paul Max Tipton. This was paired with Fernandez’s Toquen a sonajas in which the singers emphasized the Portuguese language’s crunchy vowels.

Such engrossing combinations typified the rest of the evening, which culminated in Fernandez’s Eso rigor e’ repente. Dubrovsky introduced this work describing how the sarabande as a form originated in Africa, and found its way into Bach’s passions and instrumental suites by way of Mexico, Spain, and France, emphasizing the global nature of musical endeavor. Zarabanda is also the name of a voodoo goddess of earth (the audience learned), who the singers repeatedly invoked in this work. The lyrics of Eso rigor featured the lines “Tonight we will all be white/Oh, Jesus, we are laughing so hard,” which Dubrovsky suggested was not a cry for assimilation, but rather expressed the idea that before God all people are equal. (Including complete translations would have greatly enhanced the entire evening.)

The accompanying instrumental ensemble was grounded by the indefatigable Craig Trompeter on viola da gamba, and provided unfailingly sensitive support to TCB’s six accomplished vocalists throughout the performance. Sopranos Nathalie Colas and Kaitlin Foley were both ailing, so two planned Monteverdi soprano duets were nixed from the program, but the pair contributed admirably to the overall ensemble and gamely persevered despite their announced  indispositions.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Piccolo Theatre in Evanston (following a 6 p.m. benefit reception), and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church.

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