To open its tenth season, TENET Vocal Artists—an ensemble of varying numbers of singers and instrumentalists under the artistic direction of the sweet-voiced soprano Jolle Greenleaf—constructed a program of mostly sacred works by Giovanni Rovetta. I’ll go out on a limb here and wager that most readers of this blog haven’t heard of him; I certainly hadn’t, and I’ve been following these things for half a century. Born around 1595, he worked in San Marco in Venice and died in 1668 (the year of François Couperin’s birth)—hence the concert’s title, “Rovetta @ 350.”
Rovetta’s music owes much to that of his towering older colleague Claudio Monteverdi, whom he succeeded as maestro di cappella at San Marco. The program consisted mostly of motets on familiar Latin texts, beginning with a “Dixit Dominus,” a large-scale work for this ensemble of first-rate early-musickers: vocalists Jolle Greenleaf, Molly Netter, Tim Keeler, Andrew Fuchs, James Reese, Anicet Castel, and Paul Max Tipton, with instrumentalists Bruce Dickey, Kiri Tollaksen, Tekla Cunningham, Beth Wenstrom, Ezra Seltzer, Hank Heijink, and Jeffrey Grossman. As in Monteverdi’s works, we have melismatic vocal writing, word painting, expressive harmonies, limpid polyphony, blocks of homophony, small groups alternating with full ensemble, vocal sections alternating with instrumental ones—all supported by a continuo team. After one hearing I’d hesitate to elaborate on the differences between Monteverdi and Rovetta, though Rovetta does have his own voice and impressive powers of invention. The “Lauda, Jerusalem,” for example, is a grand work, with solos, duets, and full ensemble; it begins with a rising theme that recurs in rondeau style, and the work ends, surprisingly, with an intimate duet over a ground bass for the two sopranos, who sing the familiar doxology “Gloria Patri” (“Glory be to the Father”), all rounded off with a florid coda.
Along with the larger works, we had several more intimate pieces for two voices and instruments, and two purely instrumental works: a Canzona seconda for two cornetti (Bruce Dickey and Kiri Tollaksen) and the Sonata decima by Dario Castello—the only work on the program not by Rovetta—performed by violinists Tekla Cunningham and Beth Wenstrom. Virtuosity and well-judged rubato brought out the splendor of these works. The continuo team—Jeffrey Grossman, organ; Ezra Seltzer, cello; and Hank Heijink, archlute—distinguished itself throughout with its discreet yet rich support of the singers and instrumental soloists.
As it begins its tenth season, TENET again proves itself one of New York City’s premier early-music ensembles. Under Greenleaf’s leadership, TENET has made the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 an annual event (known as the Green Mountain Project, playing on Monteverdi's name), with the best local players and singers supplemented by experts from Boston and elsewhere. (I’ve included a link below to a video of TENET’s 2014 concert of the Vespers.) Along with that musical monument, TENET has brought a wealth of other repertoire, rare and familiar, to New York and beyond, ranging from medieval works of the hermetic ars subtilior to Bach’s St. John Passion. Later this season TENET will offer a conductor-less performance of Handel’s Messiah as well as the 1610 Vespers, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and several programs for smaller forces.
Happy Tenth Anniversary! May there be many more.
Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers performed by TENET in 2014: