UTOPIA EARLY MUSIC, Cathedral Church of St. Mark, Oct. 4; additional performances Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 5 p.m., pay as able admission

For many people, early music concerts are nothing more than dry, academic exercises. And oftentimes this perception is the fault of ensembles who are so interested in historically informed performances they lose sight of the music itself. But fortunately there are also groups who perform this music with a vibrancy that makes it come alive.

One such ensemble is right here in Salt Lake City. Utopia Early Music has found the right balance that has resulted in performances that are both historically accurate and entertaining. Like Anonymous 4, Utopia has found a way to make early music fun.

The ensemble, led by founders Emily Nelson, soprano, and Christopher LeCluyse, tenor, opened its fifth season Friday with a wondrous 90-minute program devoted to the music of medieval Germany that focused on three significant, and very different, traditions: the music of Hildegard von Bingen, the music of the Minnesänger and the poetry of Carmina Burana.

Hildegard was an important religious figure in 12th century Germany, as well as a political counselor and spiritual leader. She was also a poet and composer, who wrote mystical texts with vivid imagery celebrating the wonders of creation with music to match.

The Minnesänger were German troubadours who sang of love in its various forms. Many of these songs rival Hildegard’s in their beauty of fluid lyricism, although they were more earthy and often erotic.

The poems from the collection known as the Carmina Burana run the gamut, from passionate and lusty love paeans to rowdy drinking songs.

Nelson and LeCuyse, with guest singers Geoffrey Friedley, tenor, and Ricky Parkinson, bass, gave expression to this wide ranging repertoire. They brought passion and feeling and a finely crafted lyric articulation to these pieces. Nelson has a clear, pure soprano that does justice to this music. Her account of Hildegard’s “Columba aspexit” (“The dove peered in”) was one of the high points of the concert.

LeCluyse’s high tenor has depth and resonance and his voice, too, is the right match for  these works. And Friedley and Parkinson rounded out the male trio and blended well with LeCluyse’s voice. The trio’s interpretation of the bawdy drinking song “In taverna quando sumus” (“When we are in the tavern”) from Carmina Burana that ended the concert was imaginative and delivered with humor.

Joining the singers were guests Shulamit Kleinerman, vielle, Therese Honey, Gothic harp, and local musician Lisa Chaufty, recorder. They offered wonderful accompaniment to the singers and also displayed their artistry on a couple of purely instrumental pieces.

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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at ed.reichel@gmail.com. Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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