Director Jeff Demarco & the Madregalia Singers
Hearing the Madregalia Singers presentation of “Twelfth Night – Renaissance Music for Christmas” at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Monterey last night was my first opportunity to observe the artistic craft of Jeff DeMarco, whose work with “Madregalia” and “The Pastyme Consort” has been much admired. I would have preferred to have one of our other reviewers more conversant with choral music cover the concert, but since they were unavailable, I was the last man standing.
Being by profession a pianist deeply immersed in “the truly expressive music of the 19th century,” leaving my comfort zone to hear music from the 15th and 16th centuries initially left me feeling about as out of place as a gunman at a garden party. But early on, some magic happened.
A combination of the spiritual ambiance of Bethlehem Lutheran Church with its Christmas decorations still in place, a group of dedicated amateur singers performing on a high artistic level and an opportunity to hear some Renaissance masterpieces beautifully performed totally won me over.
The deeply moving O magnum mysterium by Giovanni Gabrieli, Puer natus in Bethlehem by Michael Praetorius and Magnificat quinti toni by Hieronymus Praetorius (no relation to Michael), were works with which I am not familiar (or if I had heard them before, they had long passed out of my memory). Hearing them on this occasion, rendered by such dedicated singers, brought these pieces to life to let me know what I had been missing. Superbly blended vocal lines with interesting melodic twists and turns, occasional mildly dissonant suspensions, with some difficult rhythmic patterns, all combined to recreate the mystic and majestic aura of music from the high Renaissance.
This festive concert began with a bass solo by Frank Raab singing the British traditional “The Boar’s Head Carol,” followed by “Nowell syng we” featuring an ensemble consisting of Diane Rowe, Robin Jensen, Judi Moncrief, Ed Moncrief, Laura Frank and David Canright. Ed Moncrief, incidentally, not only sang in the ensembles during the evening’s concert, but also played guitar for a few songs.
Another group of unfamiliar works, Christum wir sollen by Hans Leo Hassler, Queramus cum pastoribus by Jean Mouton and Puer natus in Bethlehem by Michael Praetorius, once again commanded our attention and reenforced the spiritual ambiance of the occasion.
Elaine DeMarco, accompanied by her husband on viola da gamba, charmed us with a tender song, “Swete was the song the virgin sang,” and a vocal ensemble of Jody Lee, Mark Stevens, Marilyn Maxner, David Canright, Kellie Morgantini, Robin Jensen, Scott Wilson and Andrew Passell, gave us a splendid performance of the traditional “While shepherds watched their flocks” by Richard Allison (whom, Wikipedia reveals, quaintly described himself as a ‘gentleman’ and a ‘practitioner’ of music).
The ending work, Magnificat quinti toni by Praetorius had some extra carols by Joachim Decker interpolated by Mr. DeMarco. An appreciative audience lingered after the concert to speak with friends and members of the ensemble.
DeMarco burns with a passion for the music he presents and conducts. We have to admire his skill in assembling local amateur musicians into two significant musical ensembles, Madregalia and the Pastyme Consort that enrich our community. His expertise extends to providing us with printed programs containing texts of the vocal works. On stage he is a gracious host and demonstrated an easy skill in speaking to the audience with some enlightening comments.