I HAVE ART, ONE VERTICAL; WILL BRING IN THURSDAY A.M. [F/L] The music at Wednesday night’s concert by Ensemble P.A.N. (“Project Ars Nova”)
may have been old in years, but it was thoroughly modern in spirit. It was, if
anything. fairly aflame with the energy of its own innovation.
This splendid ensemble. five singers and performers on instruments proper to
the Middle Ages and Renaissance, takes its name from a period of great change
in musical history, the “New Art” of the 14th and early 15th century.
Wednesday’s concert, of the County Museum’s low-priced Bing series, consisted
of a joyous romp over about a century of musical progress: vocal works both
sacred and secular, dances and instrumental versions of vocal pieces.
Naturally, we have to hear this music from a historical perspective. What
sounded strange and somewhat mannered in music of the Flemish Johannes Ciconia
(circa 1335-1411) was actually the work of one of the earliest contrapuntal
composers, working his colorful combinations of harmony and rhythm at a time
when virtually every new composition was a step into unexplored territory. Yet
this music — the motets and lovesongs, songs of celebration and warfare —
cannot be reckoned as primitive. It is highly developed, remarkably complex at
times, a likely forerunner in its intricacies of the manneristic painting of
two centuries later. It works best today, when heard by fresh ears free of too
much information about later musical developments.
Heard on its own, with the group’s splendid performance manner that, rightly,
perceived no harm in an occasional slowing-down of the pace, even a
“romantic” enhancement now and then of a particularly loving phrase, the
music sounded vivid, and timeless as well. In style, the program ranged from
the early mannerisms of Ciconia and his contemporaries, to the truly “modern”
music of Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) in which rhythms and harmonies become
“ironed out” to approach a style closer to our contemporary concert
Ensemble P.A.N. was founded in 1980 in Switzerland; its members are currently
scattered from Basel to Boston, coming together for occasional concert tours
and recordings (on the New Albion label). Their recordings so far — one of
secular music and one of music from a remarkable manuscript from the island of
Cyprus — were enough to draw a near-capacity crowd to the museum.
The presentation had its flaws; it didn’t occur to anyone until after the
intermission that there might be an incompatibility between furnishing printed
song-texts and turning the lights so low that they couldn’t be read. And midway
in the second half, one misguided listener wrecked the beautiful mood of the
musical flow by loudly demanding further program information from the
performers, then and there. It was, therefore, a better night for musical mannerism than for concert
manners. In any case, Ensemble P.A.N. deserves a R.A.V.E.