03 June 2014

Noontime Concerts: The Jarring Sounds sing sweetly of love and loss

During my lunch hour today I trotted up the street to Old St Mary's to hear the Noontime Concert (actually 12:30ish concert, depending on when the noon mass ends). Today's program, Songs of Love and Loss, was performed by Jarring Sounds, a duo formed recently (2011) at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, consisting of mezzo-soprano Danielle Reutter-Harrah and Adam Cockerham on lute, theorbo, and guitar, though today he played only on the first two. They perform both contemporary and early music; today was solidly in the early music column, with works by Dowland, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, Strozzi, Vivaldi, and Purcell.

It was overly bright out on California Street and cool and shadowed inside the church. Old St Mary's, which must be the smallest (former) cathedral I've ever seen, is an excellent, sympatico venue for such intimate songs. It really is a relief to be able to escape into such a sheerly pleasurable concert in the middle of a work day – I can guarantee that nothing I or anyone around me in the office did today was as important as listening to this music. Cockerham was a delicate, dreamy accompanist, and had some strong, delightful solos (such as Dowland's The Frog Galliard). Reutter-Harrah has a strong, pure voice; her diction is excellent, and I didn't really need the words for the songs in English (this did not prevent one elderly man near me from flipping through his program book constantly; I have no idea what he was looking for, or if he ever found it, but why do these people always sit near me?). Many of the numbers were in Italian, with one in Latin. Not all the words were in the program, I don't know why. The text of the Monteverdi, a long solo lament among his madrigals called Se pur destina, was not in the book. My operatic Italian gave me only a partial understanding of the text, but Reutter-Harrah varied the mood nicely throughout this comparatively long selection. The mood throughout the whole concert, actually, was varied nicely, from mournful songs to the pert Purcell number that ended the hour. The piece in Latin was Vivaldi's Transit Aetas, a contemplative aria from Juditha Triumphans, in an arrangement for solo theorbo by Cockerham; it was interesting to compare it to the recent, full-on performance by Philharmonia Baroque.

I hadn't heard of the duo before. I'd love to hear them again, and I'd love to hear them in contemporary music as well. They have a CD just out, which I've just ordered, which is available on their website, which is here, but be warned that the site plays music when it's opened, which is obnoxious, no matter what the music is.

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