Dry-sounding program hides gorgeous sounds


What: Early Music Society of the Islands: Songs from the Cloisters: Music from the Convents of 17th-Century Italy, with Cappella Artemisia, directed by Candace Smith.

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When/where: Saturday, Nov. 3, 8 p.m., Alix Goolden Hall (907 Pandora Ave., at Quadra Street).

Tickets: Adults $27, seniors and students $24, members $20. Call 250-386-6121; online at rmts.bc.ca; in person at the Royal and McPherson Box Offices, Munro's Books, and Ivy's Book Shop.

What: Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy, with Bruce Vogt.

When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m. Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (School of Music, MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria).

Tickets: Adults $17.50, seniors, students, and alumni $13.50. Call 250-721-8480; online at tickets.uvic.ca; in person at the U.Vic. Ticket Centre.

Among the best concerts I heard last season was the one that sounded the dustiest and most esoteric on paper: a program, sponsored by the Early Music Society of the Islands, devoted to monophonic chants by a ninth-century Byzantine nun. The music, beautifully performed, proved to be unexpectedly rich and moving, and was all the more pleasurable for being unfamiliar.

On Nov. 3, EMSI will offer another program built around an obscure repertoire of music by and for nuns, drawn this time from Italian convents of the 17th century. It will be performed by Cappella Artemisia, a vocal-instrumental ensemble based in Bologna, Italy, that will be stop-ping here as part of a month-long, 20-city tour of Western Canada.

Founded in 1991 by a California-born singer, Candace Smith, who still directs it, Cappella Artemisia devotes itself principally to sacred music composed by 16th-and 17th-century Italian nuns, working with scholars to illuminate a hidden, mysterious, but fascinating musical world, one that also presents certain challenges to modern performers. (For instance: How were the tenor and bass parts in this music performed in a milieu without men?)

Cappella Artemisia's Nov. 3 program will include motets, songs, "concertos," and other sacred vocal works for both soloists and ensembles, with and without instruments. Several pieces were composed by men, including Palestrina and Monteverdi, but the bulk of the program will be given over to works by eight women, only one of whom - Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), who wrote instrumental sonatas as well as sacred vocal music - counts as well known.

(Have you ever heard of Raphaella Aleotti, Sulpitia Cesis, Chiara Margarita Coz-zolani, Bianca Maria Meda, Maria Xaveria Perucona, Alba Tressina, or Lucrezia Orsina Vizzana? Some of these women receive only passing mention, some no mention at all, in the 29 volumes of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.)

However obscure, this music, far from being dry, turns out to be gorgeous, judging from Cappella Artemisia's recording of works by Cozzolani - one of seven CDs it has released, all devoted to this highly specialized repertoire.

Its touring contingent will comprise six female singers (Smith among them), two continuo players (viola da gamba and organ), and two cornettists, one of whom, Bruce Dickey, gave a lecture-recital here on Oct. 15.

Kudos to EMSI for once more enlarging our perspective of what constitutes "early music" by shedding light on another of its shadowier corners.

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The year 2012 offers little in the way of major birth and death anniversaries of important composers. John Cage's centenary is being widely celebrated, but not so the anniversaries of such worthies as Notker, Gabrieli, Hassler, Stanley, Dussek, Thalberg, Flo-tow, Massenet, Pentland and Nan-carrow, not to mention Frederick II, a fine 18th-century flutist and composer who, in his spare time, was the king of Prussia.

This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy - not the most momentous milestone, admittedly, but with the greatest composers any excuse is a good one. (He died in 1918, so a bigger Debussy Year looms.) Pianist Bruce Vogt, a professor in the University of Victoria's School of Music, where he has taught since 1980, will mark the anniversary this Saturday evening with an all-Debussy recital titled Images. (He celebrated the Liszt bicentenary last year, too, with a three-concert series.)

Images is the title Debussy gave to two books of pieces published in 1905 and 1908. Vogt will perform both books - six pieces in all - along with the earlier Suite bergamasque, a reflection of the nationalistic neoclassicism that emerged in French music after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and five selections from Book 2 of the Préludes, published in 1913 and an early monuments of musical modernism. Vogt will also perform the song Clair de lune with soprano Susan Young, his colleague at UVic, with whom he has recorded three CDs.

Incidentally, Vogt's recital can be listened to not only in person but over the Internet, as some concerts in Phillip T. Young Recital Hall are now being streamed online through a very welcome new UVic program, Listen! Live. Launched in September, the program currently includes faculty and student concerts of the School of Music (audio only) as well as concerts of the Aventa Ensemble (audio and video). For now, however, concerts are only streamed live, not archived as podcasts.

For more information, visit finearts.uvic.ca/music/events/live


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