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Banquet at the Folger

Tom Zajac (with musette)
This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

The Folger Consort concluded its season of 1610 -- with a performance of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers as the centerpiece -- this weekend with a tribute to another great publication from that year (heard at the Saturday, 5 pm performance). In that year Robert Dowland, the son of lutenist and composer John Dowland, published a collection called A Musicall Banquet, which included music by his famous father, as well as other composers, including some Italian pieces in the latest Baroque style. The menu was filled out with some amuse-gueules, dances with gastronomic names from John Playford's 1651 collection The English Dancing Master. The best of these were the dances featuring the always versatile Tom Zajac, especially on the musette, or Renaissance bagpipe, like The Punchbowl and Lumps of Pudding. Zajac, who is usually credited as a multi-instrumentalist, earned his keep throughout the evening with performances on tenor recorder and various sizes of traverso, filling out parts, as well as the most virtuosic performance of the evening, his own adaptation of the divisions of Caccini's Amarilli mia bella by Jacob van Eyck. For Robert Johnson's Sir Francis Bacon's Masques, he even played both the drum and a one-handed penny whistle -- simultaneously.

The songs on the program were performed by tenor Mark Bleeke, who was at his best in comic songs like John Dowland's Fine knacks for ladies and Playford's hilariously smutty Watkins Ale, as well as more quick-paced songs that featured his voice's agile side, like Thomas Morley's See mine own sweet jewel and the charming birdsong imitations in the anonymous This merry pleasant spring. Slower songs that required a more mellifluous legato, like Dowland's Farre from triumphing court and Caccini's Amarilla mia bella, did not always suit him very well, bringing a raspy uneven sound, close to breaking at points as he seemed to pressure the sound into a smooth line. Exceptions were Dowland's gorgeous Flow, my tears, with lutenist Charles Weaver singing the bass line, and Caccini's lovely Dovrò dunque morire, with Weaver accompanying alone on therbo.

Weaver's work on lute, theorbo, and guitar was the other highlight of the concert's instrumental side, especially a sweet little anonymous piece called Rossignol (that Eisenstein did not mention the piece in his otherwise thorough program notes makes me wonder about the origin of the work), arranged for two lutes and performed with lutenist Christopher Kendall, and a quiet solo lute turn on Dowland's Lord Chamberlain's Galliard. Robert Eisenstein's audible suffering from a cold was likely the cause of a concentration lapse that set him off his violin part for a time in Giovanni Coprario's suite.

The final program of the Folger Consort's season, recently added to the calendar, may turn out to be its best: a performance of incidental music for Shakespeare's The Tempest by Matthew Locke and others (June 10 and 11), which will be accompanied by readings from the play by Derek Jacobi, Lynn Redgrave, and Richard Clifford. The ensemble has also announced its 2010-2011 season, centered on a program combining music on the theme of the seasons by Vivaldi, Christopher Simpson, and John Cage. Collaborators include Lionheart, the Augsburg Cathedral Boys' Choir, Trefoil, and soprano Jolle Greenleaf.

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