A MusicFest Vancouver presentation. At Christ Church Cathedral on Monday, August 9
It’s no surprise that weaving and tapestries are often referred in discussions of Renaissance vocal music and its play of melodic versus harmonic—its warp and woof.
The multiple voices that thread through the 16th-century polyphony are what the Renaissance was all about, with the stricture that they be, above all, evenly distributed. In its first visit to Vancouver, the French group Ludus Modalis (“The Mode Game”) sang for MusicFest Vancouver on Monday, giving us a lesson in what smoothness is all about.
The vocalists sang spiritual songs and psalms by such Renaissance composers as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Paschal de l’Estocart, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Guillaume Costelley, and Claude Le Jeune. Only Ludus Modalis six singers appeared, although the ensemble can number up to 12. Six was close to the minimum number for this material, and might have left the singers dangerously exposed, but they didn’t hit a bad note all night. They were sopranos Annie Dufresne and Nathalie Marec, alto Sophie Toussaint, tenors Bruno Boterf and Reinoud Van Mechelen, and bass François Fauché.
It was apt that they were singing in Christ Church Cathedral, with its radiant acoustics. It made you think of the relatedness of architecture and sound during the Renaissance, which saw the building of splendid structures to house and express exactly the vocal splendours of the composers on the program. It may also have reminded you of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s famous description of architecture as frozen music.
Ludus Modalis’s aim is to re-create the sound that people of 400 years ago would have heard: the question and answer of antiphonal style, the flow and progression of chords, the stereophonic effects of this richly imitative music. Exact re-creation, of course, is as pointless as it is impossible. We will never know what those people heard, but if it was anything like this, it was beautiful.
The words weren’t easy to make out, nor were they meant to be: this privilege was reserved for the participating singers. In the case of the astonishingly gifted Costelley, no understanding of the text was even necessary. The music, as in his “L’Homme et son coeur” (“The Man and His Heart”), was enough to shatter you.
See more at Lloyd Dykk’s Vancouver Scene blog at lloyddykk.blogspot.com/.