Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: Baltimore Consort

Nov. 17, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

The Baltimore Consort, one of the pioneer explorers of the common ground where European early music and Anglo-American folk song meet, returned to Richmond after an eight-year absence to present "Adew Dundee: Early and Traditional Music of Scotland."

The ensemble’s longtime members – viol players Mary Anne Ballard, Mark Cudek and Larry Lipkis and lutenist Ronn McFarlane – were joined by a guest soprano, Danielle Svonavec, filling the role formerly played by Staunton’s Custer LaRue, and by flutist Mindy Rosenfeld, rejoining the group after a hiatus of 17 years.

Ranging through two dozen songs and dance tunes, the consort steered well clear of the familiar or stereotypical. No one said or sang "Scots wa hae!" William Wallace and Robert Burns went unmentioned. Aside from "Gypsen Davy" (aka "Gypsy Davy") and "Lord Ronald" (aka "Lord Randal"), both well-known numbers from Francis James Childs’ ballad collection, none of the selections would rate as more than vaguely recognizable to those who haven’t closely studied Scottish traditional music.

Most of the pieces dated from the 17th century or earlier, and many resembled chants, ballads and consort works heard around the same time in England and France – a reminder that pre-British Scotland was more cosmopolitan than popular lore would have it. "Our Father God Celestial," a version of the Lord’s Prayer, was set to a French tune not far removed from medieval chant. "Remember me my deir," from Robert Edwards’ "Commonplace Book" of the 1630s, was audibly related to Elizabethan English song.

Scottish "snap" – the juxtaposition of short and long notes producing a lilting kind of swing – was more pronounced in dance pieces such as "Whip my toudie" and "Remember me at evening."

Cudek, playing cittern (a mandolinish ancestor of the guitar), injected some markedly modern-sounding rhythms to several numbers. Rosenfeld’s flute and recorder often decorated folk tunes with baroque-style ornamentation. Authentic? Who knows?

Svonavec’s light tone and precise diction may not have been the qualities one immediately associates with Scottish folk vocalization – her unaccompanied rendition of "Lord Ronald," for example, cried out for more pathos; but her straightforwardness and clarity proved helpful in projecting lyrics such as, "Disdaine my desyris, so strangeness me feir is, deceir out of weir is, adew I fare."