Entering the Catacombs at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, you’re enfolded in a grey stone corridor with chambers off to the sides. The main passageway, wide enough for just four chairs across and a side aisle, seems an unlikely place for a concert. But this week a live audience – and a dead one too, if it was listening – heard the Catacombs come alive with music from chamber ensemble Voyage Sonique led by baroque violinist Augusta McKay Lodge.
Maybe it’s the pre-concert whiskey reception (included in the ticket price). Maybe it’s the quiet wonder and rolling hills of Green-Wood, a national historic landmark dating from 1838. Certainly, it’s the music (too) that attracts concertgoers. Andrew Ousley’s popular live music series The Angel’s Share has been drawing adventurous listeners to the Catacombs for a couple of seasons now. It’s no freak show.
Voyage Sonique got a warm reception for its “Epilogues and Epitaphs” concert in the dank corridor on Monday night. The acoustics are very crisp, even at times a little harsh for an assertive musician like Lodge (or pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton whom I heard here last year – yes, the Catacombs can host a pair of grand pianos). My trick is to tell myself I’m in a rough stone basement jazz club in Paris. Then everything sounds just great.
In fact the weird space has benefits. One is fine clarity from even the quietest of instruments. The thoughtfully constructed program opened with a sad, lyrical little piece by Robert de Visée for solo theorbo. The confined space was ideal for the jumbo lute played by the in-demand Adam Cockerham. The theorbo can sound wispy in a larger hall. Here the cool muggy air carried Cockerham’s skillful touch to the ear perfectly clearly.
Soulful cellist Keiran Campbell then joined the lutenist to accompany countertenor Daniel Moody in the song “O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice” by Henry Purcell. Moody displayed a woodsy tone and a fine feel for the drama of the lyrics, sustaining sparkle and finesse through changing registers.
Lodge took center stage for a Corelli violin sonata, joined as well by Robert Warner playing the smallest harpsichord you’ll ever see. After a short time the violinist seemed to find the right coloration for the acoustics, and the music became an excellent medium for her tasteful and virtuosic showmanship. The ensemble built still further with the addition of violinist Jeffrey Girton in Jean-Fery Rebel’s “Tombeau de Lully,” which became an example of ensemble playing at its finest. The group gelled rhythmically, harmonically, and tonally, with skilfully executed dynamics, and some cello fireworks along with the scintillating interplay of the violins.
The excellent Moody returned for two songs by Handel. “Waft her angels through the skies” sounded warmly celestial, while “Tu del Ciel” had an especially beautiful flow.
The evening’s final “big” number may not have fit the theme of eternity and repose, but for pleasing a crowd it’s hard to go wrong with Vivaldi’s extravagant variations on “La Folia.” The musicians dove through this showpiece with zest and panache. Its rapid shifts in tempo, meter, and mood make it a workout for the string players especially, and the members of Voyage Sonique proved well up to the task.
The program closed with a perfect epilogue, as Moody sang John Dowland’s “Now, o now, I needs must part.” It’s hard to think of a better closing number for a concert of baroque music than this centuries-old equivalent to “Goodnight Irene” or “We’ll Meet Again.”
Not trusting my night vision, this time I elected to ride the cemetery’s trolley back to the main entrance instead of taking the torchlit 15-minute walk. Either route offers a magical ending to an event that’s unique amid New York City’s wildly varied music scene. For information on upcoming Angel’s Share concerts in the Green-Wood Cemetery Catacombs and other events from Death of Classical, visit the website.