From earliest times, people gathered at the winter solstice for singing and revelry to drive the dark winter away. Christianity adapted the bonfire to candlelight and secular music to carols to celebrate. They adapted plays to instruct religious mystery.
Vergine Bella, in costume, presented a program of 12th- to 14th-century adaptations. Beginning with a Parisian processional, "Ecce Mundi Gaudium," the candles, dark wood and decorative greens helped evoke the pageantry of this earlier time.
French music of the Annunciation, a section of the Play of Herod and 13th-century instrumental fragments were followed by "Infantem Vidimus," a German Liturgical Drama. Intended to instruct an original congregation for whom books and reading were equally unavailable, this was a direct drama of the shepherds, magi, angel, king and prophets.
Cantigas, Spanish devotional hymns, followed. Collected in the late 13th century, these mostly honor the Virgin Mary, as did many songs of the period. Mary then was very popular, considered very powerful and a virtual goddess.
The Spanish songs are filled with infectious rhythms and lilting melody, a much sweeter rejoicing. We are told, for example, "Marvelous and merciful are the miracles given to us by Holy Mary: laughter, joy and peace." Perhaps it reflects the warmer solstice climate. For whatever reason, these are delightful hymns.
The familiar "In Dulci Jubilo" and the recessional, "Personnet Hodie," concluded the program.
Vergine Bella -- Jill Raisen Buerk, soprano; Linda Carey Fusani, recorder; Darlene Jussila, recorder, and Rebecca Roman, recorder -- were joined by Timothy Schuman, tenor, and children's voices, Chandana Boblak and Alicia Fusani. The program was carefully prepared and well presented throughout. Buerk and Schuman have clear, well-focused and well-matched voices. Their sacred-secular costuming was a nice suggestion of the musical skirmishes of the middle ages, but their voices never clashed.
A wide variety of appropriate instruments were played. Outstanding were the wood flute of Fusani and the Celtic harp of Roman. The recessional hand bells were particularly effective, filling the nave of the church with their mellow tones and multiple overtones -- a kind of religious mystery indeed.
Early music quartet presented by Parkside Chamber Music
Sunday afternoon in Parkside Lutheran Church, Wallace
and Depew avenues.