Saturday evening, April 16th, we went to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee for Early Music Now’s presentation of the concert “Sacred or Profane?” by British vocal music group Stile Antico.
There was quite a full house for this performance, and we were glad to find out that the Cathedral has marvelous acoustics. The singers gathered at various points in the building during the concert, and could be heard as clearly from any one point as any other. The Cathedral’s relative lack of echo made the sound very clean and it was easy to pick out individual voices. On the other hand, it was pleasing how rich and full four, nine, or twelve voices sounded in the space.
The theme of the concert dealt with how secular tunes have been adopted into liturgical music. The concert began with the group processing in as the male singers chanted L’homme arme (“The Armed Man”), a martial chanson that may have its origin in the Crusades. A popular tune, it was adapted for liturgical music more than once, and the group gave us one of the earliest known versions, the Kyrie from the Missa L’homme arme, by Guillaume Dufay, in which the song appears strongly in the baritone line with intricate counterpoint in the other voices.
The lyricist Aquilino Coppini of the opinion that any good music, given appropriately spiritual words, could be rendered acceptable to God and the saints, and Coppini “rendered” a number of tunes from the highly secular madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi. We heard four, interspersed through the program, beginning with Rutilante in nocte, which came next.
The (literally) profane song, Entre vous filles de quinze ans, (“You fifteen-year old girls”) by Jacob Clemens non Papa, was adapted as part of the Gloria from Orlando Lassus’ Missa Entrevous.
Clement Janequin’s long and --- song, La guerre, notable for its “battle music” and vocal recreation of the sounds of warfare, became a basis for the Credo from the Missa pro Victoria, by Tomas Luis de Victoria.
The Monteverdi/Coppini Plorate amare ended the first half.
The second section began with Westron Wynde, a very old British tune. Georgie in particular was very interested in this piece, having read several references to it, but never having heard it. John Taverner was among other composers that made use of it, putting it into the Sanctus and the Benedictus from the Western Wynde Mass.
Monteverdi and Coppini followed, with O Jesu mea vita.
Mille regretz (A Thousand Regrets), a sad song by Josquin des Prez, was used in the Agnus Dei in the Missa Mille regretz, by Christobal de Morales.
Another adapted madrigal, Qui laudes tuas cantat, followed.
The evening ended with the pairing of Mort et fortune (“Death and Luck”) by Nicolas Gombert, and its adaptation into the solemn Magnificat tertii toni super Mort et fortune, by Orlando Lassus.
The Stile Antico singers perform a cappella, grouping and regrouping into ensembles and sections as the musics require. Every voice was clear, pure and beautiful. We were extremely glad to have been able to enjoy this concert, which was an aesthetic joy in addition to its historical interest.
Prior to the concert, we had dinner at Sake Tumi, the Asian fusion restaurant nearby on North Milwaukee Street. We dined on tempura green beans, pork gyoza (pot stickers), “dancing shrimp’, and teriyaki chicken, all from the “small plates” section of the menu. Everything was excellent. The tempura batter for the green beans was a bit heavier and firmer than we were used to, but very flavorful and delicious and the beans appropriately crisp. The pork dumplings were delicately flavored and very good.
“Dancing shrimp” are crisp-fried wonton cups, filled with a creamy mixture of steamed shrimp, kani kama (“imitation crab meat” or pollock), cucumber, masago (capelin roe), & sriracha mayonnaise, which was tasty and excellent. The teriyaki chicken was perfectly prepared.
Service at the early dining hour of 5 PM was fast and friendly, and the prices very reasonable. Recommended for the adventurous diner.
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