Classical Music: Concerts a boon for early-music fans

The coming week’s concert schedule will particularly interest two constituencies: clarinet aficionados and early-music fans.

On Sunday, the Sidney Classical Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Brown, will perform two very different works for clarinet and strings, joined by the young clarinetist Rebecca Hissen, a member of the Naden Band (2:30 p.m., St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church, Sidney, $25/$13, under 20 free; sidneyclassicalorchestra.ca).

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One of the pieces is a four-movement concerto from 1952 comprising music by Handel as arranged by English conductor John Barbirolli. (The sources include an oratorio aria and an organ concerto.) Finzi’s piece, completed in 1943 and originally for clarinet and piano, is a suite in five movements: prelude, romance, carol, forlana and fughetta.

Sunday’s program will also include works by Vivaldi, JS and CPE Bach, Elgar and Brown himself.

Next Tuesday, in a faculty concert at the University of Victoria’s School of Music, Shawn Earle will showcase a different side of the clarinet, in a program of contemporary solo works influenced by non-Western cultures — East African, Indian, Balinese, Japanese (12:30 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, by donation; online at livestream.com/somlive; finearts.uvic.ca/music/calendar).

Earle earned a master’s degree in music at UVic in 2007, and a doctorate, in 2016, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where his research focused on the multicultural nature of contemporary Canadian clarinet music. (He has commissioned works himself.)

Since September, he has been teaching at UVic, replacing his recently retired former teacher, Patricia Kostek.

On the early-music front, the Victoria Baroque Players will return on Friday under the direction of British harpsichordist Steven Devine — his third appearance in the VBP’s main season since 2016 (7:30 p.m., Church of St. John the Divine, $28/$25/$5; victoria-baroque.com).

The all-Handel concert will culminate in Apollo e Daphne, a 40-minute dramatic cantata in Italian based on a Greek myth, performed by British soprano Kate Semmens, local baritone Nathan McDonald and a dozen string and woodwind players. Comprising recitatives, arias and a couple of duets, this quasi-operatic work shows the young Handel at his most imaginative and deliciously, ravishingly sensual.

The program also includes a concerto grosso from Handel’s Op. 3 and an orchestral suite from his music for Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist.

Devine will also perform on Monday, Jan. 14, in a VBP fundraiser — “an intimate and entertaining evening of stories and music, shedding light on the magic of the harpsichord and continuo playing” (7:30 p.m., Baumann Centre). Tickets ($60, $30 of which is tax deductible) must be purchased in advance: 250-590-9770, victoria-baroque@shaw.ca, victoria-baroque.com.

Finally, next Tuesday, Christ Church Cathedral, in collaboration with Early Music Vancouver, will sponsor an appearance by a superb male vocal quartet, New York Polyphony, in a program reflecting this group’s twin commitments to early and contemporary music (7:30 p.m., $25, student rush $5; pre-concert talk 6:45; christchurchcathedral.bc.ca).

New York Polyphony will perform two works written centuries apart: a Mass by Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-1585) and Missa Charles Darwin (2011), by American composer Gregory W. Brown. (The quartet commissioned the latter and recorded it for a Navona Records CD released in 2017.)

Brown’s work is structured like a traditional Mass, though its texts are drawn from writings by Darwin: On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man and his letters. The resulting “secular Mass” explores the relationship between faith and reason, in music that at once pays homage to medieval and Renaissance polyphony and is unmistakably modern and original.

The composer, incidentally, is the brother of bestselling author Dan Brown, and Missa Charles Darwin helped inspire Dan Brown’s most recent novel, Origin, which includes a chapter devoted to his brother’s piece.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between science and religion,” Dan Brown has written. “Missa Charles Darwin is an ingenious fusion of the two, and it immediately captivated me. Missa Charles Darwin got me thinking about evolutionary processes, spiritual views and the origins of our species and our belief systems.”

Gregory Brown will be in Victoria for next Tuesday’s performance, and will discuss his work before the concert with Christopher Douglas, an English professor and acting director of UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society.

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