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Seicento Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary 

A review by Marc Shulgold

The concert’s title alliteratively promised “Magnificent Magnificats,” and indeed, the Baroque ensemble Seicento delivered. To celebrate a decade of music-making, the group, led by artistic director Amanda Balestrieri, offered an intriguing triple-header of upbeat choral works, each built on the same joyful Latin text.

Amanda Balestrieri, Artistic Director

Heard Sunday afternoon in Boulder’s First United Methodist Church, the concert attracted a modest-sized but enthusiastic audience to the spacious facility. Even though each of the three “Magnificats” relied on the same words expressing unshakable faith (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”), there was nothing redundant in the music. All three proved distinctive, and each is a concert-hall rarity. That’s boldness for you – but then, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Balestrieri’s ambitious approach to programming.

Wesley Leffingwell, Chamber Organ/Assistant Conductor

On an agenda that concludes with Bach, one can assume that the work in question would be his famous, oft-performed “Magnificat” in D. Turns out, that was his second rendering. As we learned from Wesley Leffingwell’s comprehensive printed notes, Bach returned to his original version in E-flat, heard here, and made a few changes. Those familiar with the second, D-major setting might have noticed a few small differences, though most obvious was the original insertion of four hymns (“Laudes”) sung in German and Latin – later to be eliminated by the composer. Fans of Bach (and who isn’t?) were thus given a special treat with Seicento’s energetic reading of the earlier E-flat “Magnificat.”

Seicento Baroque Ensemble

For the Bach, the small instrumental ensemble that performed in the program’s opening half (string quartet, chamber organ, pairs of oboes and recorders) was expanded with three Baroque trumpets, played with gusto by Kris Kwapis, Stanley Curtis and Tom Dzida. Stand-outs among the accompanying contingent in the Bach were the Baroque oboe of Ruth Denton (in “Quia respexit”) and the recorders of Michael Lightner and Linda Lunbeck (in “Esurientes implevit bonis”). Incidentally, Lunbeck also played timpani and sang in the chorus. Fine work throughout by the continuo of cellist Joseph Howe and organist Leffingwell.

Ruth Denton, Baroque Oboe
Linda Lunbeck, Recorder

Balestrieri confidently led a nicely paced reading, maintaining a fine balance between singers and instrumentalists. She even lent her excellent singing to the oboe aria, “Quia respexit.” As they always do, the thrilling opening and closing choruses were highlights, where the chorus and trumpets soared. But particularly effective was the first “Lauda,” sung lovingly by the choir a-cappella. 

The concert’s excellent guest solo group* consisted of soprano Lorena Perry, mezzo Emma Vawter, alto Ingrid Johnson, tenors Daniel Hutchings and Blake Nawa’a and bass Adam Ewing – with Balestrieri contributing a cameo, as noted. In the Bach, each contributed solid solos (or small groupings), notably Johnson’s expressive work in the “Esurientes” and in her duet with Nawa’a in “Et misericordia.” Johnson teamed with Perry and Vawter in an effective “Suscepit Israel.”

*Seicento vocal soloists

In the first half, Balestrieri and company offered two “Magnificats” that were doubtlessly unfamiliar to most of their audience, opening with a charming eight-minute setting for five soloists and string quartet. It was originally attributed to Dieterich Buxtehude, but is now accepted as penned by an anonymous composer – the error in authorship confessed in 1931 by the musicologist who’d originally misattributed it. In any case, it was a pleasure for listeners to discover this rarely heard piece, given an attentive performance by Perry, Vawter, Johnson, Hutchings and Ewing. 

Evanne Browne

Completing the brief first half was the “Magnificat” by French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier – also of modest length (11 minutes). Here, the chorus and soloists took turns in delivering a decent account of the 10 sections comprising this lovely piece. The Lunbeck-Lightner recorder duo brought extra delight to Adam Ewing’s solo in “Suscepit Israel.” In the following duet, “Sicut locutus,” longtime Seicento fans were given a nice surprise, as the group’s founder, Evanne Browne, joined Vawter up in the soprano section unobtrusively in the back. Great to see Browne and to hear her sing once again.     

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