maria cristina kiehr & concerto soave in zamora: questa mefistofelica cantatrice
appa writes on 15.Mar.05 at 21h52
I attended a superb concert last Sunday in the spanish town of Zamora integrated in the 3rd International Festival Portico de Zamora. Maria Cristina Kiehr and the Concerto Soave offered those present a remarkable performance.

The program interpreted was organized around the holy scriptures from both the Old and New Testament. It's title was Héroes de la Cristandad: Antiguo y Nuevo Testamento.

The concert took place at the Iglesia de San Cipriano a beautiful 12th century church. In the sober but charming romanesque style.

Besides the soprano MC Kiehr the Concerto Soave are:

Maria Cristina Kiehr showed why she's unrivalled as a soprano in this repertory.

  1. Her inteligence in compreending the text: the way she explores variations of pitch in her voice to communicate all the nuances in the text.

  2. The enchanting timbre she has: it is at the same time mellow and hard. You cannot help being attracted, like a moth to a lamp, by the luminosity of Kiehr's voice.

  3. The subtle changes of amplitude: no furore espressivo. Everything is done with refinement, without ever falling in the trap of shouting the music. Why impoverish the music by reducing it to a mere shouting contest. Let that be the realm of romantic opera.

MC Kiehr started a little cold, yes, but she wooed the audience with her perfomance of Lasso's "Suzanne ung iour" — Susanna one day. Accompanied only by the luth, it was an intimate moment. Is there's a heart pumping blood through your veins you cannot help feel touched by this beautiful music. Once more her subtle variations of pitch and rhythm communicated the words and music so poignantly.

I never thought Mazzocchi as a great composer. Certainly a competent composer, but without the strokes of genius that impregnates Monteverdi's work, for example. But a great performer can make even less interesting music sound ravishing. So it happened in this concert.

I'm not either a big admirer of Palestrina's music. I find it a sort of impoverishment, if compared with the music from the Franco-flemish masters, like Josquin Desprez or Ockeghem. Yes I know that they lived in different ages, and that Palestrina is the musical counterpart to the counter-reformation. Even so, I always found it a bit repetitive, lacking imagination.

Sylvie Moquet in the bass viol assisted by Jean-Marc Aymes in the positive organ, gave a wonderful performance. Furthermore the piece is quite demanding of the viol player. The wonderful acoustics of the church allowed to hear all the nuances of the viol's pitch.

Jean-Marc Aymes was very good in Andrea Gabrielli's piece for organ, based on Lasso's song. But the pièce de résistance, regarding Aymes' performance was Frescobaldi's Battaglia. A Battaglia — a Battle — is an instrumental piece that filiates in Clément Janequin's song "La Bataille". The song depicts a battle, the preparation, the engagement, the deaths, the end. In the Mass the Battaglia was played towards the end and it symbolized the fight between good and evil. As it should be, good triumphed over evil, thus conforting the audience, and reaffirming christian morality. The Battaglia is usually written for and played in a pipe organ. There are versions for other instruments, one the most remarkable being Biber's Battle. Therefore it is even more remarkable that Aymes' performance delivered all the organistic characteristics without sacrificing the harpsichord delicacy. It had rhythm, direction, articulation, strength. It was for me the highlight of the concert in instrumental music. It is clear that althought quite self-efacing, Aymes is a great harpsichordist and organist, and could launch himself in the endeavour of a solistic career in parallel with it's group activities.

The 2nd part of the concert started with Barbara Strozzi's magnificent Mater Anna. It was a revelation for me. I had listened to Strozzi's music before, but never, ever, was I touched like in this concert. The sheer expressiveness and quality of the music stood out. MC Kiehr's performance was beyond words. It is registered in my cells the poignant cry of "adiuva nos" — help us. The ground beneath my feet opened and I stood there alone against the great abyss. True Art. Yes, I know that the description is vague, fuzzy, imprecise, subjective, you name it. But words only get in the way when you try to describe what your all organism experienced by the immersion in a true work of Art. A very wise man, wrote that we only find words for what is already dead in us. And I must say that this concert is still pretty much alive and kicking inside of me. This was in my opinion the highlight of the concert.

Please Mater Anna adiuva nos, how can we resist this song of the syren?

It affected me so much that afterwords I was recovering from this extreme experience. Yes the music was good and the performance superb, but I was still numb.

On a less positive tone. Matthias Spaeter was far from good in Kapsberger's tocatta for luth. The articulation was poor, the music seemed to evolve by jumps, instead of a continuous smooth flow. I like Kapsberger music a lot, be it vocal or instrumental. But it requires a great performer that studies the work beying played in detail. Otherwise what results is a mishmash of notes that look like music, but that is not music. He started bad, improved in the middle, and decayed again in the end.

The audience behaved well. Nothing to say about the public of Zamora. The lighting of the church was sober and effective. It avoided the commonplace of making concerts with the light all turned on. It used several colours. Unfortunately the stage was covering the stone altar, thus making it impossible for the audience to appreciatte the stone altar and its artwork.

There were also some things that I didn't liked. First and foremost the iritating noise of a mechanical shutter just after the concert started. A girl connected with the organization was happily shooting the camera while the music was playing. In spite of the angry looks that some members of the public gave her, she continued, not stoping before she had "enough" pictures. The acoustics is good. That's two edged sword. On one hand you listen all the instruments very well, on the other any extraneous noise is also well heard, thus impeding the enjoyment of the concert. She should have taken the photos right at the beggining before the music started to sound, between applauses, and at the end.

Unrelated to Zamora, but related to Spain, I didn't enjoyed being exploited by some water monger in a crappy supermarket just after the portuguese border. He charged me 1 EUR by a 1.5 L plastic bottle of water. Not only it's incredibly expensive — cara in spanish —, but it also tastes like tap water.

In conclusion this was a superb concert. One of the very best that I ever attended in my life. One of those where there is a clear cut division between the before and the after. MC Kiehr and the Concerto Soave offered to the Zamorian audience a recital of 17th century Italian music to be remembered and cherished. To the organizers, sponsors, and above all to the musicians, namely to MC Kiehr:

Keep up the good work.

What are a meagre 1200 km travelled by car in single day to hear such Art? Life is great!
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> comments from another pilgrim ...
> by Vermeer on 17.Mar.05 at 15h06
I took part with António in “Zamora’s pilgrimage”. My surprise began with the church the event took place. The venue was a modestly sized romanic church (Iglesia de San Cipriano). Its small size provided the kind of intimate environment where we don’t expect to see artists of this stature performing. Well, in Zamora ( this was the place where most of the festival events took place.

The festival program showed ambition (there were nothing but excellent performers) and a clear focus on the quality (at the expense – wisely, in my opinion – of the “quantity”).

Regarding the concert itself, it was magnificent. “Concerto Soave” playing is sober. It lacks the visceral attributes we find in many italian (or french, for this purpose) ensembles, but there’s a poetic and elegant approach which matches superbly this repertoire.
Maria Cristina Kiehr is miraculous. It takes much more than virtuosity to make a great performer. Surely this repertoire cannot be sung by someone with a poor voice (unlike other styles … I’m thinking about the Billie Holiday’s latter years when she faced tremendous physical degradation, but sung with an unmatched emotional intensity … but I diverge). Kiehr’s vocal attributes are, obviously, immense. What makes her unique is how she uses her instrument. It’s a matter of taste and intelligence. Her singing is exquisite. There is no show-off of virtuosity. She understands what she is singing and delivers this understanding with utmost subtlety and taste. Her singing is natural, fluid. Nothing seems forced, mechanic or “out of place”.
Kiehr and Concerto Soave share this sober and unforced playing, so one easily understands how they have a lasting and fruitful relationship.

My only disappointment is that the supreme Sances “Stabat Mater” was not performed unlike previously announced. But it was a minor disappointment.

It was definitely worth traveling almost 1100 km on a single day. A day I won’t forget.