The San Francisco Early Music Society's 2012/13 season continues this weekend, November 16-18 with the West Coast debut of Les Sirènes, one of the most promising young ensembles to appear on the early music scene in recent years.
Sopranos Kathryn Mueller and Kristen Watson are joined by harpsichordist Michael Sponseller and baroque cellist Cora Swenson, in an enchanting program titled "Virtuosi Italiani: The Florid Style of Monteverdi and Handel." The program highlights the gorgeous arias and duets of two of the greatest baroque masters of song, George Frideric Handel and Claudio Monteverdi.
Standing at opposite ends of the baroque era, Monteverdi (1567-1643) and Handel (1685-1759) each developed the vehicle of coloratura or decorated melody, often accompanied by painfully beautiful harmonies, to express both the earthly and divinely spiritual passions of the human soul. Les Sirènes' concert presents a bouquet of this heady, florid music assembled from the composers' trove of cantatas, operatic arias, and madrigals.
Monteverdi was perhaps the single greatest creative force driving the revolution in European music during the early 1600s, both reinventing older forms such as the madrigal and motet and pioneering the New Medium of opera. Les Sirènes' program will feature selections from his Scherzi musicali, including the joyous duet "Zefiro torno," celebrating the arrival of spring; "Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben?" and "O come sei gentile," from the Settimo Libro de Madrigali; and "Pur ti miro," from his late opera L'incoronazione di Poppea.
Writing at the end of the baroque era, Handel distilled the fruits of the past century's musical developments and made the Italian style completely his own. His many arias, cantatas, and operas show a confidence, directness, and ease of expression that were prized by his contemporaries as they are today. Mueller and Watson will perform a selection from the glorious solo cantatas and duette da camara, including some of the composer's earliest works and others from the early 1740s that are early versions of what became famous numbers in his 1742 Messiah.
Cellist Swanson and harpsichordist Sponseller each will take the spotlight in solo pieces for their instruments. Sponseller will be heard in an elaborate passacaglia by the keyboard pioneer Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), and Swanson will play a sonata by the great 18th-century, baroque string composer Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762).
Only three years old, Les Sirènes was named one of six finalist groups in Early Music America's 2012 Baroque Performance Competition. Members of the young, Boston-based quartet are acclaimed soloists in their own right. Sopranos Mueller and Watson have sung with American Bach Soloists, and harpsichordist Sponseller played at the San Francisco Early Music Society's September concerts with Les Délices, bringing the house to its feet with his interpretation of Antoine Forqueray's diabolically challenging La Morangis.
Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 | Palo Alto
8pm @ First Lutheran Church
600 Homer Avenue
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 | Berkeley
7:30pm @ St. John's Presbyterian Church
2727 College Avenue
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 | San Francisco
4pm @ St. Mark's Lutheran Church
Individual tickets: $35 General/ $30 Seniors. Subscriptions: $196 for the full 7-concert series ($168 for SFEMS members). Choose 3 concerts for $89.25 ($78.75 for SFEMS members). Tickets may be purchased at sfems.org.