Sunday, April 5, 2009

Baltimore Consort last night

Attended TCNJ's Baltimore Consort concert last night. I'm always impressed by the sound of the instruments, how beautiful they are, how mellow, soft and precise. Perfect chamber music instruments. We miss that sound in the more biting attack and fuller resonance of modern instruments. Modern classical guitar is the only instrument that approaches this Renaissance ideal and it seems severely limited compared to say, the 18-string lute that Ronn McFarlane was playing last night. Harpsichord comes close as well, but then, modern harpsichord makers only imitate construction of a couple centuries ago.

The ensemble members have been playing together for several decades and they still exude a delight in making music together, skipping and dancing onstage and smiling and laughing at each other's jokes. It's clear that they're having a grand time and that gives their performance a real party quality that fits the music perfectly. For sheer musical dazzle McFarlane and flutist Mindy Rosenfeld were just amazing.

If there was a downside, I suppose it lay in our distance from the repertoire. The skipping dance rhythms, rudimentary harmonies and twittering melodies of instrumental music written c. 1500 begin to lose their appeal to unaccustomed modern ears after about half an hour. As this was an all-instrumental program, there was no heart-rending ballads or clever poetry to distract us from the style.

Still, the last set on the program of Scottish music was a surprise, not just for its resemblance to folk music we hear being performed and composed today, but also for the exquisite structure of the melody, particularly in the opening song for lute and flute and the spinning intricacies of the closing dance, built on the still-famous song by Robert Burns "Green Grow the Rushes".

The hall was only about half full, but the crowd that was there loved the show, bought the CDs on sale in the lobby and brought the group out for an encore with a standing ovation.


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