Baltimore Consort Brings Virtuosity to Spirited Shakespearean Songs
By Elaine Schmidt, Special to the Journal Sentinel
Feb. 14, 2016
In terms of early music, 36 years is a mere blink of an eye — unless that's the age of an early music ensemble.
The Baltimore Consort, founded in 1980, appeared at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Saturday as part of the Early Music Now series, performing a delightfully animated program of music tied to the plays of William Shakespeare.
From Thomas Morley's lovely "It was a Lover and his Lass" ("As You Like It"), one of the most famous tunes of tunes from Shakespeare plays, to a mournful "Gravedigger's song" ("Hamlet"), the program was an endlessly fascinating mix of up-tempo songs, touching ballads and heavy-hearted laments.
The selection of tunes, which represented eight of the Bard's works, was only the tip of the color-and-contrast iceberg.
Instrumentalists Mary Anne Ballad, on treble and bass viols, Mark Cudek, on cittern and bass viol, Larry Lipkis, on bass viol, recorder, krummhorn and gemshorn, Ronn McFarlane, on lute, Mindy Rosenfeld, on flutes, fifes, bagpipes and krummhorn, combined deeply musical, polished deliveries with spot-on ensemble communication and a contagious spirit of fun.
The players moved from instrument to instrument throughout the program, lending the high piping voices of a fife to some numbers and lower, warmer sound of a wooden flute and the plaintive wail of a small, delicate set of bagpipes to others.
Virtuosic lute playing, delicate cittern solos, a few driving bass lines and the musical energy one usually hears from a bluegrass band were all part of the Consort's ever-changing mix of sounds and styles.
Soprano Danielle Svonavec brought a sweet, ingénue sound to much of the program, making use of a fluid vibrato as an occasional color or ornament. She periodically turned that voice into distinct characters, underscoring the theatrical roots of the musical selections.
Svonavec brought more overt bits of theater to the program, in part through animated, communicative song deliveries. She appeared in gravedigger costume, complete with a spade on her shoulder, for the "Gravedigger song." She donned the playful character of Robin Goodfellow — think prankster Puck from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" — playing silly jokes on her instrumentalist colleagues during the concert's final number.
The ensemble answered a vigorous standing ovation with "Berayna," a delightful Appalachian tune that migrated to these shores from the British Isles.