By Anthony Rodgers, KCMetropolis.org
We’ve all been sad about one thing or another at some point in our lives, but few have felt the need to musically grieve as Baroque characters have. This past Friday, The Friends of Chamber Music hosted the chamber ensemble Atalante, presenting its program titled “Lamentarium: Ancient Narratives from 17th-Century Rome.” Featuring several laments with a few more lively pieces programmed to offset the tragic theme, Atalante performed with the highest of standards for historical accuracy, musicality, and beauty to spin these tales of woe.
The vocal prowess of Nadine Balbeisi, soprano, and Theodora Baka, mezzo-soprano, is beyond words. Together, their voices reached a new level of storytelling, as the individual parts joined to form a single entity, moving with great precision as one. Both demonstrated great command of their voices with extreme agility as well, such as in Misereris omnium, Domine by Domenico Mazzocchi. In Luigi Rossi’s Passacaglia dell’ Seigneur Louigi, Balbeisi soared over the audience with a beautiful tone and incredible diction, which, grouped with her emotional facial expressions, made me often forget I needed to read the projected translations to fully understand her plight. As Euridice in scenes from Rossi’s Orfeo (1647), Balbeisi paced her delivery so well that her death scene was the most remarkable and heart-wrenching moment of the evening. Baka was sheer drama in all that she performed. Her voice was rich and embraced every moment of expressive chromaticism, but she shone most during her portrayal of Orpheus. Baka seamlessly transitioned between the stages of Orpheus’s anguish—he being the poster boy for the commonly presented five stages of grief—and drew the audience into her character’s world to feel what he felt along his path around the Underworld. The fated moment when Orpheus turns to catch a glimpse of his following wife to ultimately lose her for eternity was both visually and musically shocking, giving life to what is often just another twist in the story.
Small but powerful, the accompanying ensemble consisted of three stringed instruments that combined forces to create a large sound in the cathedral setting. Jörg Jacobi kept the music flowing with the very active and full-voiced harpsichord parts and evoked one of the richest sounds from the lower register of the instrument that I’ve ever heard. Playing the triple harp, Siobhán Armstrong was delightfully nimble as she navigated the strange space between the three rows of strings. During a few mournful moments in Marco Marazzoli’sLamento d’Armida, she and Baka created an intimacy that was haunting and beautiful.
The director of Atalante, Erin Headley, performed double duty. Playing the viola da gamba, she added an intense depth to the ensemble’s sound, particularly during Passacaglia. But it was Headley’s introduction of the fascinating lirone that caught the eye and ear of many. On this occasion, Headley used thirteen strings—the instrument sometimes consists fourteen or more!—and played mostly sustained chords across a flat bridge, creating a lovely yet eerie sound that quickly became associated with the onset of a lament within this program, as it also would have at the time of original performance. Together, the group allowed these unfamiliar timbres to rise and swirl from within the ensemble due to their phenomenal blend with one another.