The Jarring Sounds duo of mezzo Danielle Reutter-Harrah and Adam Cockerham on plucked strings (theorbo for this particular event) gave a recital in the Noontime Concerts™ series today at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral. The name of the group comes from a phrase in one of John Dowland’s lute songs, “In Darkness Let Me Dwell;” but it also refers to the “jarring” nature of a repertoire that combines both early and recent compositions. The “focal point” of this particular program, however, was the seventeenth century.
The duo was joined by two “guest artists,” both of whom had performed with Cockerham almost exactly a month ago in a Noe Valley Chamber Music concert. These were tenor Brian Thorsett and violinist Natalie Carducci, performing on a period instrument. Over the course of about an hour, these musicians arranged themselves in different groups to perform different compositions.
An account of this program should begin at the conclusion, since the final selection was the one piece that can be found on the new recording self-produced and recently released by Jarring Sounds. This is one of the eight songs in Henry Purcell’s fourth book in the series Choice Ayres and Songs to Sing to the Theorbo-lute of Bass-viol, opening with the line “From silent shades and the Elysian groves.” It is a mini-drama in which the narrator establishes that the scene is the Bedlam asylum and then allows one of its inhabitants (“Bess”) to explain her presence there due to “lovesick melancholy.” After Bess sings her piece, the narrator provides a sympathetic conclusion.
One has to appreciate Purcell’s sensitivity to instrumentation. The low strings of the theorbo are excellent in evoking the sense of Bess’ madness. Reutter-Harrah also contributed some basic acting technique to delivering Bess’ part of the text but without ever carrying her depiction to excess. The state of Bess’ mind was better captured by Purcell’s eerie chromatic lines, all delivered by Reutter-Harrah with a solid sense of pitch. This may not have been the happiest ending to the program, but it well represented the virtues of the new Jarring Sounds CD.
Jarring Sounds also performed as a duo at the very beginning of the program with four songs by Purcell’s predecessor, Henry Lawes. This portion might have been called “Four Views of Love,” all of which were definitely in the domain of the profane, rather than the sacred. Indeed, there was a generous share of ribaldry including infidelity, the mocking of chastity, and at least one flirtation with the sexually explicit. Reutter-Harrah delivered these texts with an arch approach to her rhetoric, offering a knowing account of the words while leaving it to the listener to figure out what was going on in the subtext.
Love was also in the air for Thorsett’s three selections, solo arias from Claudio Monteverdi’s 1632 Scherzi Musicali collection. Accompanied by theorbo, each song was basically a protestation of amorous ardor. In the second song that ardor was rejected; and the part of the rejecting would-be lover was taken by Carducci’s solo violin passages. Thus, the song had a call-and-response structure in which Carducci had a response to each of Thorsett’s plaints. With very little explicit dramatic action, this made for highly entertaining theater.
The program also included two instrumental selections. Cockerham performed a C major prelude by Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger. This served as an “overture” to Carducci’s performance of a C major sonata by Arcangelo Corelli (Opus 5, Number 3), for which Cockerham provided the continuo. Corelli’s Wikipedia page includes his recognition as the “iconic point of reference” for the famous violinist-composers of the eighteenth-century; and Carducci’s account of this sonata gave the attentive listener a clear sense of those “memes” initiated by Corelli that would then be picked up by his successors.