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Don Quixote Rides Again with the Folger Consort

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Don Quixote, new translation by Edith Grossman
Like many beloved works of literature, Cervantes's novel Don Quixote (published in 1605, coincidentally the same year as Victoria's setting of the Requiem Mass, performed by the Folger Consort last season) had an extensive afterlife in music. It is by its very nature a musical book, a sonic soul that Jordi Savall documented in a remarkable recording of all of the pieces (or as many of them as possible) performed, heard, or even mentioned in the book. The last program in the Folger Consort's season was devoted to two pieces that came after the novel, musical works intended for the stage that preserve the comic spirit of the novel while also adapting it to their own times and locales, Germany and England in the early 18th century. Excerpts from both works, Telemann's Burlesque de Quixotte and incidental music composed by Thomas D'Urfey for three English plays on the Don Quixote story, were interwoven with dramatic readings. This arrangement recounted the general arc of the story with a few of the most famous episodes.

The instrumental ensemble consisted of a well-balanced string quintet, with most of the emphasis on the demanding first violin parts, played with dexterity if not universally clear and beautiful tone by Risa Browder. Pleasing accents were added by the continuo group of Webb Wiggins on harpsichord, William Simms on theorbo and Baroque guitar, and Christopher Kendall on lute and therbo, as well as some occasional solos by Robert Eisenstein on recorder, contributing some much needed variety in the treble range. Particularly worthy were Telemann's music for Quixote's attack on the windmills, the book's most famous passage, a very fast, agitated performance of music focused especially on a rapid-fire repeated-note motif, and for the sighs of love for Princess Aline, with a chromatic sighing motif for the first violin. A country dance medley was added to the conclusion of the program, to give a sampling of Thomas D'Urfey's poaching of pre-existing dance tunes. This had little to do with the program, coming after the death of Quixote, but the different colors applied -- lute and guitar with only double bass on one, recorder featured on another -- relieved the uniformity of the instrumentation up to that point.

William Sharp, bass-baritone
Actors Floyd King and Robert McDonald narrated the story with humor and bonhomie, speaking lines by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, respectively. Baritone William Sharp was at his best in these broadly comic songs, grimacing and blustery on the hearty guffaws of Sancho in Hat mich der große Menschenfresser, for example. Sharp adapted his elegant and subtle voice to a range of humorous songs, from the mock-epic tribute of Sancho to his donkey (Telemann's Mein Esel ist das beste Tier) to the inebriated stagger of D'Urfey's The Doctor is feed for a Dangerous Draught, sung in praise of a wine bottle. Sharp was paired with soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, who sang first from the upper balcony as a vision of mythical Dulcinea. At times her voice sounded slightly strained, but her performance was especially compelling in the extended and highly varied made scene, From Rosie Bow'rs -- as it turns out, the last piece that Purcell completed, when he was quite ill.

The Folger Consort's 2009-2010 season will be devoted to music from around the year 1610, centered on a performance of Claudio Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers at Washington National Cathedral (January 8 to 9, 2010). Other programs include a comparison of 17th-century music in Italy and China (October 2 to 4), a German Baroque Christmas program with Cantate Chamber Singers (December 11 to 20), a French Baroque program (March 19 to 21, 2010), and Robert Dowland's Musical Banquet, from 1610 (April 9 to 11, 2010).

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