In more ways than one, something old is new again. Of the 36 tracks, 13 are new (although the pair of entries from Ronn McFarlane, “Sycamore” and “Indigo Road” can now be found on his solo CD, cross-reference below) and the remainder cover more than a quarter-century of The Baltimore Consort’s recordings.
A most welcome addition is the back-cover photo and instrument legend—a boon for neophyte’s who may think that a cittern has more to do with plumbing than art. The bulk of the fresh tunes feature Mindy Rosenfeld on flute and fifes. Her work with McFarlane (“Celtic Flute”) demonstrates admirable control and great balance, but further subtleties of dynamics—particularly in “Clare Jig”—could only add to the enjoyment.
The Renaissance Italy trio of takes features ethereal, skillfully controlled melodic lines (“Bianco Fiore”), perfectly rendered dotted rhythm (“Catena d’amore”) and a need for microscopic punctuation between sections to eliminate the breathless result.
Rhythm also figures prominently in the opening numbers where nearly-unanimous unisons slightly detract from the otherwise engaging-at-every-turn “Scotch Gap,” ideally placed and sculpted phrase endings (“Galliard d’écosse”), the nickel-short-of-perfection “Laroque Galliard” and the Yee ha! fun of the crumhorn-rich “Alemande de Liège.”
Other notable moments abound in An English Country Ball (the flute/recorder tonguing is especially fine, the dynamic contrast in the “cuckoo” tune is most welcome, Mark Cudek’s cittern—with deft inner voices—is a constant delight [“John Come Kiss Me Now”] and the contrasting orchestration of the verses leaves nary a bar dull).
The appearance of counterpoint in Musick’s Silver Sound sets the table for the Baroque era and the sudden pulse shifts (“Green Garters”) are excellent at every change. Another degree of full agreement as to the weight and centre of the beat would secure “Galliard” a nomination to the Renaissance Hall of Fame.
The final set (Scotland’s Native Airs) is a marvellous medley that reverberates with drums and rattling strings, melts into the meeting of the wires (“Remember Me at Evening”) before the crumhorns add excitement before a single pitch links the band into “A Scot’s Tune” where the ensemble is first-rate and ye can hear the pipes!
For those who’ve ever wondered what consorts are all about, this disk is an ideal way to learn. JWR