[music review] Mélomanie at Saint Clements with soprano Clara Rottsolk

melemonieThe eclectic chamber group Mélomanie presented some of their characteristic “provocative pairings of early & contemporary works” in Saint Clement’s Church on Saturday in a very intimate setting upstairs in the parish hall, which created an atmosphere of true ‘chamber’ music with harpsichord, viola da gamba, cello, and both modern and baroque flute and violin.

The first half was devoted to early music – starting with a Pièce en trio 1692 in C Major by Marin Marais (1656-1728). The start of the piece seemed tentative, as the musicians recalibrated the balance of the sound of their instruments after the addition of an audience in the small room. Having rehearsed in an empty room, the instrumentalists had to rethink and play out more, which they did, bringing the unusual harmonies of the second movement of the piece, the Sarabande to the fore with more courage and conviction than they had in the Prélude.

The music for poem Leandre et Hero, by another early music composer, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749), starts with an instrumental introduction and the group achieved a graceful balance between baroque flute, baroque violin, gamba, and harpsichord. Clara Rottsolk, soprano, began her verse in a well-focused and quiet recit, her French pronunciation and enunciation impeccable. Rottsolk was both expressive and controlled; although in that small room some of her exquisite high notes were quite startling. Her control of pitch with almost no vibrato and her ability to follow discordant harmonies to their resolution created an atmosphere of storytelling – keeping the audience on edge until the final verse of the poem.

The second half of the concert had two modern pieces, the first a tribute to Marin Marais, Tombeau de Marin Marais, by Max Pinchard (1928-2009), for viola da gamba accompanied by modern flute, modern violin, and harpsichord. Donna Fournier’s gamba playing was both modern and daring as she embraced the very late-nineteenth century style of the composer. The modern flute (Kimberly Reighley) was magically light (even with the challenges of playing in a small space) and Reighley managed to paint a very high note in the dimmest of pastels at the end of the fourth movement. This very appealing modern piece tempered by the delicacy of the harpsichord and gamba was very effective.

Thomas Whitman, chair of the music department at Swarthmore and his colleague, Craig Williamson, professor of English literature, gave a humorous introduction to both language and the spirit of the two thirteenth century Middle English poems which were the basis for Whitman’s premiere. Dr. Williamson’s ability to explain years of linguistic research with a few simple words provided much laughter and garnered him a crowd of admirers after the concert.  

Rottsolk put herself entirely into the work, Lenten is Comen/Worldes Blis [Spring is come/Worldly Bliss] – creating the nuances of the delights of spring and the despair of unrequited love with her voice. Whitman’s music was both melodic and mysterious with surprising harmonies for the ensemble of baroque cello, viola da gamba, baroque flute, baroque violin and harpsichord. The last of the poems was sung unaccompanied, sending the audience out into the cold night with haunting dreams of spring.

[Saint Clement’s Church, 2013 Appletree Street] January 13, 2018; melomanie.org

[Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, 200 South Madison Street, Wilmington] January 14, 2018,

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