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Ballads and Brawls for the Bard at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Consort on Ionarts:

The Elizabethan Muse: Shakespeare, Byrd, and Dowland (January 6, 2007)

Greensleeves (December 22, 2006)

Palestrina and Monteverdi (January 7, 2006)

Corelli and Charpentier (December 23, 2005)

Josquin and Isaac (October 8, 2005)
The Folger Consort, with guests Mark Rimple, Jim Stimson, and the Newberry Consort of Chicago, offered the program Ballads and Brawls for the Bard at the Folger Shakespeare Library as part of the Shakespeare in Washington Festival. These consorts combined forces to form a “Broken Consort” consisting of violin, viol(s), recorder, lute, cittern, and bandora. Similarities may be observed between a “Broken Consort” and a typical bluegrass band of fiddle, upright bass, guitar(s), and banjo(s). Among the twenty-nine selections on the program that could have been used in Shakespeare’s plays, the works of Thomas Morley (c. 1557-1602) and Giovanni Coprario (né John Cooper, c. 1570-1626) shined brightest.

Morley, a student of William Byrd, was a neighbor of Shakepeare’s in London. It was a lover and his lasse, a song about springtime from Twelfth Night, was sung by soprano Ellen Hargis (last reviewed in January at the National Gallery) and had a nice balance with the instruments. Though, throughout the evening Hargis did not seem to “let go” and use her full voice, which limited the clarity of her diction.

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Ross Duffin, Shakespeare's Songbook (W. W. Norton, 2004)
Instrument-only works were nicely interspersed throughout the program. In particular, the Fantasy, and Alman; Galliard, by Coprario, were very compelling. Strong rhythm allowed the complex polyphony and counterpoint to be heard clearly. Unfortunately, in most of the other pieces in Friday’s performance, especially ones with a vocalist, the rhythm was less than strong. The absence of strong downbeat was possibly due to the rather horizontal playing of the viol and lack of a larger bass viol in the ensemble.

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, The Folger's Rollicking 'Ballads and Brawls' (Washington Post, March 13)
Violinist David Douglass, the director of The King’s Noyse , and Mark Rimple, of the group Trefoil, offered the evening’s most convincing music making. Douglass, while holding the violin just above his elbow, played impressive virtuosic runs in the final variations of the Kemp’s Jig medley. Rimple was confident alternating between singing countertenor and playing the lute, guitar, and the long arch-lute with over a dozen strings. The back and forth between these two musicians in Morley’s Goe from my Window was very satisfying.

The evening ended with the witty ballad The Friar and the Nun from All’s Well That Ends Well, which was interspersed with a bit of wry Gregorian chanting in Latin by all of the musicians. It then finished with chanting in organum (parallel 5ths) and a hilarious “Amen.” On sale in the bookstore of the Folger Shakespeare Library is musicologist Ross Duffin’s recently released Shakespeare’s Songbook, where much of this material may be found.

This program will be repeated only one more time, this afternoon at 2 pm.

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