Seicento performs two early psalm settings composed in Italy
By Peter Alexander
Over the weekend—Friday to Sunday, March 24–26—Evanne Browne will conduct her farewell concerts with Seicento, the Baroque performing group that she founded only six years ago.
The program comprises entirely music by Handel, including settings of Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus, and Psalm 117, Laudate Pueri. Both are set for choir and soloists with strings and will be accompanied by a small orchestra of period instruments, including harpsichord and small organ. There will also be sections of secular cantatas to fill out the program. Performances will be in Denver, Boulder and Estes Park (see below for details).
“It’s my last concert, but it’s the beginning of a new energy with Seicento,” Browne says. “We’re financially sound, we’re finishing the sixth year, and we’ve been well received. People say, ‘oh, that’s your baby,’ but the baby has grown up and is ready for a new influence.”
Interviews have already been held for a new director and auditions will be conducted next week. Browne said the board hopes to announce the new director in April.
Browne moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where she had lived and worked before coming to Boulder, in September and has travelled back to Colorado for all the Seicento’s concerts this year. In the meantime, she has been singing professionally and teaching in the D.C. area since her move.
She picked the program for the concert before she knew it would be her last with Seicento, but the choice is appropriate. “I have known Dixit for along time and wanted to do it,” she says. “Dixit is one of his most incredible choral pieces, and both pieces are chorally flamboyant, and difficult choral singing. If you think Messiah has lots of runs, Dixit is that times two or three.”
The second Psalm setting, Laudate Pueri, was pointed out to Browne by Mark Alan Filbert, who has served as musical director in Browne’s absence this year. Both pieces were written in 1707, when Handel was 22. He was living in Rome, where the Pope had banned opera but sacred music filled the void. Roman choirs of the time seem to have been particularly capable, which explains the difficulty of the music in both Psalm settings.
While living in Italy, Handel “was influenced by Corelli and other Italians,” Browne says. “He was into an Italian expressiveness, which is so much about word painting and florid vocal lines. And the crunchiness of the dissonances is very Corelli-like. He took that style into his later works, his operas and his oratorios, but I think he’s really exploring the craft here.”
The two Psalm settings do not quite make an hour of music, so Browne selected movements from three of Handel’s cantatas to fill out the program. She chose them, she says, because they contain music that the audience will recognize—the original versions of melodies that appeared later in Messiah.
“People will recognize [the tunes],” she says. “One is ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born,’ and the other is ‘And He shall Purify.’ It’s great fun to hear these Italian texts and especially the Messiah melodies that we know so well in their original form. It’s so familiar but it’s so different.”
Soloists for the performances will be sopranos Amanda Balestrieri and Kathryn Radakovitch and tenor Todd Teske, all from the Boulder area, and mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead who performs in Washington, D.C. There will also be short bass solos from members of Seicento.
“We have fabulous soloists,” Browne says. “There are two duets and one solo cantata, and the women who are doing the cantatas—oh my gosh, they can sing runs, and beautifully! It’s going to be a lot of fun to hear that.”
Just six years ago, Seicento became one of the first historical performance groups in the Boulder area. “When I first came to Boulder, there was very little Baroque vocal music going on, and a little bit of Baroque stringed period-instrument music,” Browne says, pointing out how much more there is now. “I am very, very proud of this organization and the way it has been managed,” she says.
“I’m grateful and I’m excited for the future of Seicento.”
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Seicento Baroque Ensemble
Evanne Browne, artistic director and conductor
Sopranos Amanda Balestrieri and Kathryn Radakovitch, mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead and tenor Todd Teske
Handel: Dixit Dominus and Laudate Pueri
Selections from Italian secular catnatas
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24
St. Paul Lutheran Church & Catholic Church, 1600 Grant. St. Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25
First United Methodist Church, 2412 Spruce St., Boulder
2 p.m. Sunday, March 26
Stanley Hotel Concert Hall, 333 east Wonder View, Estes Park