SOUNDS AND SWEET AIRS, July 28, Church of the Holy Faith PERGOLESI’S STABAT MATER, Aug. 1, Loretto Chapel

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The Santa Fe Desert Cho­rale added its voice to the city’s Shake­speare sat­u­ra­tion dur­ing this quadri­cen­ten­nial of the author’s death by pre­sent­ing a pro­gram called Sounds and Sweet Airs. The ti­tle, of course, is drawn from the words be­ing adapted from Cal­iban’s de­scrip­tion of the mag­i­cal is­land he and all the other char­ac­ters in­habit: “The isle is full of noises,/Sounds, and sweet airs that give de­light and hurt not./Some­times a thou­sand twan­gling in­stru­ments/Will hum about mine ears, and some­time voices/That, if I then had waked af­ter long sleep,/Will make me sleep again.”

The pro­gram was con­structed by Richard Sparks, who, as the evening’s guest con­duc­tor, led an en­sem­ble com­pris­ing 16 of the Desert Cho­rale’s singers. Its mu­si­cal heart was , a set of five a cap­pella pieces writ­ten in 1949-50 by the Swiss com­poser Frank Martin. It was the first step in Martin’s ob­ses­sion, which cul­mi­nated in his opera pre­miered in 1956. “What at­tracted me to Shake­speare’s he said, “is, apart from its poetic al­lure (which should ap­peal to any mu­si­cian), the in­fi­nite psy­cho­log­i­cal rich­ness of the var­i­ous char­ac­ters. There is a range of hu­man types that one finds in no other piece of theater.” This se­quence of move­ments sug­gests the di­verse but pre­cise char­ac­ter­i­za­tion Martin ad­mired in the play. Solid pac­ing and rhyth­mic pre­ci­sion marked the in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and the group sang with firm, well-blended tone. The singers landed se­curely on their pitches in Martin’s dense chords and, when nec­es­sary, ad­justed their in­to­na­tion in­stantly to keep the har­mony aligned just so. Par­tic­u­larly en­chant­ing was the sec­ond of the songs, “Full fathom five,” where the choir’s slowly un­du­lat­ing lines de­picted the wa­tery depths. Sev­eral mem­bers of the cho­rus are called on to de­liver solo pas­sages in this score. The most im­pres­sive of these ex­panses came in the fourth move­ment, “You are three men of sin,” where mezzo-so­prano Mitzi Wes­tra de­liv­ered her con­dem­na­tion of the play’s male­fac­tors with grip­ping in­ten­sity.

Vaughan Wil­liams’ Three Shake­speare Songs for a cap­pella cho­rus also drew en­sem­ble ex­cel­lence from the group, which Sparks had ob­vi­ously pre­pared with care­ful at­ten­tion to dy­nam­ics, dic­tion, and tex­ture. The con­cert’s open­ing set was five move­ments by the Swedish com­poser Sven-Eric Jo­han­son. They are at­trac­tive pieces and prob­a­bly not more than that, but here they ben­e­fited from the ad­mirable mu­si­cian­ship of Nathan Salazar, who as­sisted at the pi­ano. The nat­u­ral­ness of his phras­ing was un­der­pinned by buoy­ant rhyth­mic al­lure. The re­main­der of the reper­toire was mid­dle­brow.

by Bob Ap­ple­baum, was a jazz-in­flected piece of some five min­utes’ du­ra­tion, which in the event seemed about five min­utes too long. It sets the pas­sage in in which the three way­ward sis­ters sing about how “thrice the brinded cat mew’d,” and the com­poser pre­dictably has his singers im­i­tate said

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