His Majestie’s Clerkes

Slowly but surely His Majestie’s Clerkes are earning an international reputation as the definitive interpreters of a cappella choral music. Their recordings of early American hymns set new standards for vocalism and scholarship. Artists in other fields have already taken notice: Twyla Tharp’s dance piece Sweet Fields, an incandescent homage to Shaker camaraderie, is set to selections from those albums. The Clerkes have now taken up another worthy cause – uncovering the music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, a church organist in 16th-century Amsterdam. Sweelinck also wrote prodigiously for gifted amateur musicians who paid for harmonized and instrumental settings of psalm tunes, which were sung unaccompanied during worship. Part of the Clerkes’ sampler traces the progression of Psalm 140 from Belgian composer Claude le Jeune’s plainchant to Sweelinck’s organ variations and then his motetlike setting, which presents the melody both plain and embellished. Also by Sweelinck are an echo fantasia for organ and a Latin motet, Gaude et Laetare, for choir and organ; David Schrader, a thoughtful, understated virtuoso, will join the Clerkes to perform these on two of the best organs in the Chicago area, at Saint Giles and Saint Clement’s churches. The second half of the program is devoted to Membra Jesu Nostri, a magnificent meditation on Christ’s crucified body by Dieterich Buxtehude. Like Sweelinck, Buxtehude came from a family dynasty of kapellmeisters and, through his organ recitals, turned his church into a tourist attraction. His voluminous body of work, exemplified by this series of seven Italian-style cantatas, has earned him a place in German Baroque music just a notch or two below Bach. Soloists in the Clerkes’ performance include soprano Christine Kelner, tenor Gary Rebholz, and the distinguished countertenor Mark Crayton. The Chicago Baroque Ensemble and viola da gambist Mary Springfels provide the instrumental accompaniment. Saturday, 8 PM, St. Giles Church, 3025 Walters, Northbrook. Sunday, 3 PM, St. Clement’s Church, 642 W. Deming. 312-461-0723.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of His Majestie’s Clerkes by Wm. Burlingham.