As much as studio recordings eliminate many of the risks inherent in CD production (e.g., the two-edged joy of retakes; performing the repertoire “out of order,” a more reliable source of absolute silence), there’s nothing like switching on the microphones at a live concert. For this impressive assemblage of earlier hits (cross-references below), new (but always old) repertoire and the latest member (soprano Danielle Svonavec fits like a glove in her début), is a musical feast that was the great fortune of an audience from the 2007 Piccolo Spoleto Festival to experience firsthand. Their palpable enthusiasm obviously found its source from the talented troupe but also pushed the performers to outdo even themselves.
It’s difficult to pick highlights from the 22 tracks. The return of flute/fife/recorder master Mindy Rosenfeld is largely responsible for the infectious drive of “Adew Dundee” and “The Dark is My Delight.” The recorder fest of works by Pierre Phalése—with their delicate lilt and unanimity of attack—also features special guest Steve Rosenberg.
As always, Ronn McFarlane’s lute contributions are a marvel of deceptive ease and unerring style. Joan Ambrosio’s “Saltarello” with its deliciously modal flavour, drone and technical wizardry followed seamlessly by “Piva” are superbly done. In “The Queen’s Treble,” he leads a very merry chase filled with oft-repeated phrases that, happily, are never quite the same.
Mary Anne Ballard’s viol skills are heard to excellent effect in “Newcastle” and “On the Banks of Helicon.” Her seemingly effortless bowing ability, knowing when to soar or sublimate are the hallmarks of a vrai artiste.
Keeping the band moving steadily forward is Larry Lipkis and his bass viol. While “Kathren Oggie” suffers momentarily from a touch-too-heavy stroke, everything else is set down with aplomb.
Mark Cudek’s inventive mastery of the cittern reveals itself time and time again. Along with Lipkis, he deftly builds “Jon Come Kisse Me Now,” thoroughly understanding this music that would have much later appeal to the likes of Holst and Elgar.
Left so completely on her own, Svonavec traverses the treacherous storytelling of “Lord Ronald” (“Oh when did you die, my handsome young one”) with hypnotic delivery and marvellous accent. As the stanzas progress, her early difficulty with descending intervals vanishes as surely as the protagonist’s storied life.
Proving once more that there is nothing new under the sun are “Green Grows the Rashes” (wasn’t jazz invented centuries later?) and (with a cameo percussion appearance by Danny Mellon) the delectably funky finale, “Les Buffons.”
Oh to have been in the room with the crowd. Let’s hope The Baltimore Consort may soon be coming to a concert hall near you! JWR