Mastery and Antiquity – a review by Jaime Murdoch

On Sunday afternoon, March 4th, the impeccable harmonies of four stunningly talented singers echoed through the theatre at Art Spring.  Hailing from southern Germany, Voca Me drew audience members into the forgotten past of Byzantium with the music of Kassia,Byzantine abbess, poet and perhaps the Western world’s first known female composer and hymnographer, dating back to the 9th Century.

The show began with impeccable harmonies that swelled and swayed and moved in time and in balance with the fine instrumentation of musical director, Michael Popp.  Positioned close by with zither and lutes, Popp chimed in when the music called on him.  He provided an intriguing historical background to the work and humourous anecdotal details about the composer herself that brought laughter to the crowd.  There were times when his leafing through papers distracted from the vocalists’ musical artistry; however, the singers remained focused and strong.

For the first half of the performance, although their mastery of vocalization was very clear and impressive, the visual comfort and communication between the early music singers felt slightly strained.  As the show went on, the women’s camaraderie became more and more apparent with subtle smiles and eye contact.  Overall, their sound was rich, nurturing and unfaltering.  Masters of tonality, harmony, dynamic colouring and dissonance, one could sense their magnified togetherness combined with a clear individual presence.  Consonants beautifully articulated, these musicians moved beyond the notes and became orators of Byzantine legend, drawing audience members into a dusty ancient past.

What a treat to witness such an ensemble, one that came together to communicate these legends, to tell the stories of Kassia in such a disciplined and finely tuned and dignified manner.  The discipline, professionalism and mastery that Voca Me brought to the stage provided inspiration, intrigue and spirit to Salt Spring.  This was a show for art and music historians, music appreciators and for anyone who can see the sheer beauty in a group coming together with immense dedication.  Bravo.

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