Folger Consort cultivates a winsome “English Garden” in season opener

Sun Sep 24, 2017 at 1:27 pm
By Grace Jean

Soprano Emily Noël performed with the Folger Consort Saturday night.

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s ensemble-in-residence, Folger Consort, offered up a summery season opener on Saturday afternoon by paying homage to seventeenth-century English music with a botanical twist.

Billed as “An English Garden,” the thoughtful program — cultivated by Consort’s founding artistic directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall — included country dances and other instrumental pieces interspersed among ballads and songs. With five guest artists joining the founders onstage in the Elizabethan trappings of the Folger Theatre, the Consort conjured images of sun-dappled countryside and blooming courtyards through their joyful playing and singing.

With her warm clarion voice and shimmery vibrato, soprano Emily Noël displayed a lyrical storytelling style in John Dowland’s “The Lowest Trees Have Tops” and a lark-like quality in William Byrd’s “Though Amaryllis Dance in Green.” Her best moments came in the pure tonality of Robert Johnson’s “Have You Seen the Bright Lily Grow” and the heartbreak of Charles Coleman’s “Venus Lamenting Her Lost Adonis.”

Noël’s counterpart, the expressive tenor Mark Bleeke, played up the humor in Thomas Morley’s “It was a Lover and His Lass” and sang sweetly in Thomas Ford’s “Come Phyllis, Come into these Bowers.” But it was his passionate wooing in Philip Rosseter’s “What Then is Love but Mourning” and emotional drive in Nicholas Lanier’s “No More Shall Meads be Deck’d with Flow’rs” that hit the mark. In duet, the two singers were a winsome pair in John Dowland’s “Clear or Cloudy” and they delighted the audience with their flirty take on Henry Lawes’s “A Dialogue on a Kisse.”

Without the singers, the Consort featured the multi-talented Daniel Meyers, who played his recorders, flute and bagpipe with spirited ease throughout the concert’s many dances, and especially in the technical passages of Thomas Tollett’s “Ground.” His string counterpart on viol, Mary Springfels, was rock solid and made her instrument sing, whether in a supporting role for the vocalists, or as a soloist outright.

Springfels proved a trusty compass, keeping the Consort steady through a handful of ensemble bobbles, including a few unfortunate falters by her duet mate Eisenstein in the two pieces featuring only viols.On violin, Eisenstein fared better, but he was sometimes the dominant voice — and a bit off-tune — in the instrumental works, much to the detriment of Meyers’ flute and recorder melodies.

Rounding out the group, Mark Cudek plucked away on cittern and gave a fun and jaunty solo in John Playford’s “Jon Come Kisse,” while Kendall on lute was ever responsive to both ensemble and soloist dynamics. With singers Noël and Bleeke returning for William Lawes’s “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May,” the full ensemble placed a crown of flowers atop an idyllic performance.



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