The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Renaissance Choir Sacramento
The Lamentations of Jeremiah - April 11, 2017
by Dr. Jeff Nelson
“The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” by Orlando di Lasso, was the third concert of this material by Renaissance Choir Sacramento and was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sacramento. This church contains the oldest organ in Sacramento, an 1877 Johnson and Son mechanical tracker with 2 manuals. It was perfectly suited for this concert, and Lee Lovallo’s simple and pleasing registration choices, when at the organ, were excellent. Lovallo is also founder and director of this group of 13 singers with one Rote and handbell player (Paul Dessau), and one additional organist (Bruce Crain). A Rote, also called a crwth, is a Welsh bowed lyre that was used for sostenuto tones for the chorus.
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The presentation of this concert was unique. Each section had a passage from Lamentations read by one of the singers, followed by a musical choir section by di Lasso, and then a “Pange Lingua,” (“Sing, my tongue”), in reference to Good Friday, played on the organ. This was all presented in a Spanish chant style appropriate for the time period. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The singers and conductor were dressed all in black, and their opening piece was the “Pange Lingua” by Venatius Fortunatus from the 5th century. The other famous “Pange Lingua” is the one from the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas. It started with the singular Rote and soprano line with the handbell added later. The smaller chapel-sized room supplied good acoustics. The choir sang all the pieces in Latin but the reading portions were in English.
The Lamentations prima section started with Crain playing a line on a small portable organ, which had surprisingly good tone for this type of instrument. The choir then came in with multiple entrances, both accompanied and a cappella.
In each section, the readers of the Lamentations, Elizabeth Crain, Brian Lucas and Joan Hall, concluded with a call for “Jerusalem to return to the Lord Thy God.” The organ portions were provided by Lovallo, who also builds organs and does tuning and historic restorations, and they were pleasing and a good diversion from the scriptural portions which were quite austere by nature.
The closing number was the 17th-century “Tantum ergo sacramentum” by Giovanni Casoni, and it provided a bold finish to the concert with organ and handbell accompaniment.
In this current century, we don’t really think often of di Lasso except in special concert settings like this, particularly with choral music. However, in his time di Lasso became the most famous composer in Europe. He had a prolific output and a marketing type of mind for the newly-found printed music scene. It’s difficult for us to imagine a world without printed music, which is abundant in its many forms today. Di Lasso was able to capitalize on it by getting to know the printers of his music and control his own circulation! He was so well loved that he had the unheard-of honor to be elevated to nobility status in 1570. As Hofkapellmeister, he raised the reputation of the Bavarian court to one of the highest in Europe.
It is quite an endeavor to accurately present music of this historical significance, and you could tell throughout this concert that the ensemble really has a passion for this unique style. There was a small but appreciative crowd in attendance. If you have an interest in historical music in some unique settings, I recommend that you look for them next season for their upcoming programs.
Dr. Jeffrey Nelson as born in Seattle, WA and began studying music at the age of 5. He has sung in chamber, popular and theatrical groups and played in orchestral, jazz, symphonic and marching bands throughout his career. He also toured in Europe with the US Army for four years as a vocalist, instrumentalist and choreographer with the 7th Army Soldiers Chorus based in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied and worked with Fred Sautter and James DePriest (Oregon Symphony) and Dr. Bruce Browne (Portland Symphonic Choir) while studying Brass Performance and Conducting at Portland State University. He also studied with Anthony Plog (LA Philharmonic) and was a studio freelance trumpet and vocal artist in Los Angeles before moving with his wife Jennifer to Northern California. He has held conducting positions for Cantare Chorale, Gold Rush Men's Chorus and has been a guest conductor in D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Toronto, Canada with the VA National Medical Musical Group based in Washington, D.C. He currently teaches private instruction in trumpet, voice and guitar in Placerville, CA and is a music director for Church of the Foothills in Cameron Park