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