Pomerium sings in Spaulding

by Kate Carolan | 1/21/03 6:00am

I went into "Musical Monuments of Renaissance Italy: The Flowering of Sacred Polyphony," a concert by the early-music ensemble Pomerium, with an open mind. I didn't have a large background in chamber music -- let's be honest, I had no background in chamber music. I played the piano for seven years, but that's about it.

As the concert began Saturday evening, I was amazed by the beauty of the music and the nearly perfect harmony that the performers achieved together. As the first half wore on though, the pieces grew longer, and my attention span grew shorter. My roommate, who was already under close watch by our neighbors for having coughed during the piece, leaned over to me and said, "I feel like I'm in church!"

I would have to say the performance had a similar effect on me -- understandable though, as this was papal music from the first half of the sixteenth century. The first half of the show was an overview of some of the finer pieces found in the choirbooks of the Sistine Chapel from the early part of the century.

Naturally the music was in Latin, and the lyrics reflected the same artistic essence found in Michelangelo's art at the time. The choirbooks date back to the time of Julius II, Leo X and Clement VII. In them are many large-scale works, particularly polyphonic Mass settings. There are also Magnificats and motets for five, six or eight voices.

The composers of the era aimed for their work to reflect the glory of heaven. Those writing for the papal chapel made their best efforts to write the finest music in the world at that time, since it was to be performed before the Pope.

The second half of the performance went by quicker and was on the whole more pleasing. The songs alternated between works by the composers Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) and Claudio Monteverde (1567-1643). The pieces were shorter, but more powerful, and they seemed to be livelier than their predecessors in the first half.

Some students in attendance had high praise for the performance.

"I thought it was absolutely wonderful," Sarah Ball '06 said. "The group's ability to create a blend in which it was nearly impossible for the listener to discern the number of voices on a particular part was truly exceptional. It was also a pleasure to hear [countertenor] Robert Isaacs sing, as he helped to create the impeccably pure tone this type of music demands."

Pomerium was founded by Alexander Blachly in 1972 in New York. Blachly was also the director for Saturday night's performance. The objective of Pomerium is to perform music composed for the famous chapel choirs of the Renaissance period.

The group is famous for its interpretations of Busnoys, Du Fay, Josquin, Lassus, Ockeghem and Palestrina.

The 14-member a cappella group includes Dartmouth alum Sarah Craft '01, who now sings professionally with various groups in New York City.