Dallas — Takeaway from the Dallas Bach Society’s Valentine’s-themed concert, hosting the ensemble Armonia Celeste on Sunday afternoon: Renaissance Italian songwriters found romantic love to be a challenging and sometimes even dire proposition.
The first song, by Luigi Rossi, set the tone—the three singers and two instrumentalists took on the personae of “sellers of sorrows”: you know, the sorts of things you must buy into, literally in this case, if you fall in love. Without the supertitles Dallas Bach Society projected, audience members would be forgiven for thinking this was an upbeat, cheery song, judging from the harmonies of the tune itself and Armonia Celeste’s approach.
The first song proved to be typical of the rest: songs about all the negative aspects of love, including jealousy, a lover with “a heart of enamel,” love as a war to be lost or won.
The only exception to this love-induced trauma, indeed a song that was very much an exception to the rest of the repertoire in many respects, was the ensemble’s encore: a lively and utterly delightful rendition of “That’s Amore” in full Renaissance style that left more than one audience member walking out of Caruth Auditorium singing loudly.
Sopranos Rebecca Choate Beasley and Sarah Abigail Griffiths and mezzo-soprano Dianna Grabowski have distinctive voices that nonetheless blend beautifully. Griffiths in particular has a powerful voice, but she skillfully moderated her vocal power, as did Beasley and Grabowski, and they never overpowered the Baroque triple harp played by Paula Fagerburg and lute and theorbo played by Lyle Nordstrom. The lute in particular is a lovely instrument when played as skillfully as it was Sunday afternoon, but it typically lacks projection. Yet the ensemble was always well balanced.
Each of the instrumentalists took solo turns, displaying their considerable skill and knowledge of early music performance practice. The singers, too, each performed one song solo, with accompaniment, as well as singing some duets in various combinations and a few trios. These wise programming choices created variety in a program that otherwise risked monotony.
It’s a shame this program at Southern Methodist University's Caruth Auditorium was so sparsely attended; it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.