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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Baltimore Consort Performs in Fort Worth

Fort Worth’s First Presbyterian Church, with its long and proud Scottish heritage and tradition was a most appropriate setting for the Baltimore Consort’s January 26th performance of Adew Dundee, Early and Traditional Music of Scotland. The six musicians of the consort provided one of this season’s most satisfying concerts. The group has made a career of exploring the more obscure nooks and crannies of the repertoire. In a program that spanned the emotional gamut from the heartbreak of lost love to the ecstasy of Catholic spirituality to some low-down, toe tapping pub tunes, the music moved and inspired the sizeable audience, making even the most staid of Presbyterians sway in their pews.

The consort’s five instrumentalists performed on at least a dozen instruments, infusing their virtuosity with an element of joy and fun that was palpable and infectious. They were augmented with a guest performer, Danielle Svonavec, whose light and effortless soprano added the perfect seasoning to a hearty soup of colorful instrumental sonorities.

In an evening that was full of delights and surprises, there were a few absolute standouts. Ms. Svonavec’s haunting and unaccompanied One yeir begins, was a tour de force of vocal virtuosity. Her effortless transport from tenor g to the upper portions of her range was to die for. Gypsen Davy, a work imported to the new world was deliciously funny. In addition, Ronn McFarlane played a number of elegantly executed solo lute pieces, and Larry Lipkis and Mindy Rosenfeld provided some delightful banter in a number of works featuring dueling flutes and crumhorns. Mark Cudek made a virtual jazz rhythm section with his cittern, and provided a bit of sixteenth century bee bop by turning his viola da gamba on its side and playing it like a bass guitar. Mary Ann Ballard deftly switched from instrument to instrument as she provided one tuneful obbligato after another on her various viols.

The ensemble was slightly and tastefully amplified, a necessary evil given the soft sounds that these early instruments produce. Couple the quiet instruments with the enormous space, the electronic enhancement was needed, but never detracted from the enjoyment of the music. If one were to criticize anything, it would be the concert series’ policy not to provide printed programs. The practice first caused the performers to have to speak at length from the stage, and while the information was really necessary, it lengthened the program by nearly fifteen minutes, and caught the performers off guard just enough to make them sound a tad under-rehearsed as they spoke. More serious though, was depriving the audience of the song texts, whose dialectical and complex poetry would have been well served by our having been able to read along.

Given however, that there was no admission charge, and that the performance was truly world class, this can only be seen as a mild flaw. In short, this was inspiring music played with peerless musicianship. Truly a delightful evening.

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