Luminous Voices from Belgium

vox_Luminus“In the beginning, there were recorders.” So wrote former SFEMS concert coordinator Marilyn Boenau long years ago. The Boston-based bassoonist and curtal (and recorder) player, as well as director of the Amherst Early Music Workshops, was referring to the role that great popularizer of early music played in the discovery and revival of our historical repertory, before said music was taken over by other, more appropriate or typical instruments of the period(s).

It is curious and noteworthy how many former recorder players (Anthony Martin and Bruce Dickey are examples) went on to have distinguished careers on other instruments. Many also have founded and/or directed prominent orchestras and chamber ensembles. That would include, among others, Berkeley’s Kent Nagano, international champion of contemporary music; Holland’s Frans Brüggen, founder and director of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century; and Italy’s Giovanni Antonini, who leads Il Giardino Armonico.

To which we now may add Belgium’s Lionel Meunier (who became a bass-baritone), artistic director of Vox Luminis. The award-winning vocal ensemble make their American debut  at the Berkeley Festival next Wednesday, June 4, in a program taken from their Gramophone Award winning CD of Heinrich Schütz’s Musicalische Exequien, followed the next night by a second concert, featuring Italian baroque works centered around Domenico Scarlatti’s 10-voice Stabat Mater.

Writing in the Early Music Review, critic Andrew Benson-Wilson praised the “extremely impressive young vocal group” and called both their solo and choral singing outstanding: “indeed, it was refreshing to come across singers who can sing solo and in consort with equal skill. It also made a change to come across four sopranos who managed to avoid getting louder as they went higher.”

Berkeley Festival founder and director Robert Cole also was highly impressed with the group when he ran across them on YouTube and urged the Festival to present them. (Read more about his discovery of the group in this interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic Joshua Kosman.)

If you want a sample of what he heard, and what we will hear next week, check out this clip of them performing (live) Schütz’s “Herr, wenn ich nur Dich habe,” an excerpt from the Musicalische Exequien.

And here they are in an excerpt from Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater, which they will be performing on Friday night.

Anyone who was around Cal Performances during Cole’s long and distinguished tenure as its director knows his uncanny ability to spot stellar talent near the beginning of their careers and bring them to our area (ever hear of Cecilia Bartoli? Not many had when Cole brought her to Cal Performances in 1991). I still recall a review of that debut concert by then East Bay Express classical music critic Sarah Cahill. After her many expressions of praise and astonishment, Cahill concluded her review lamenting that it never again would be possible to hear Bartoli in a venue so intimate.

I wouldn’t doubt either Robert Cole’s acumen or the wisdom of one’s own ears (listen to these two clips, above!). Don’t let the chance to hear this ensemble of luminous voices pass you by. Tickets to their Schütz and Scarlatti concerts are available through the BFX box office on line or by phone at 415-697-1957.

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