Perfect Pitch: Italian Christmas

by patrickmccoy

REVIEW:  The Folger Consort performed Christmas music inspired by the Renaissance.

By Patrick D. McCoy


The Folger Consort presented an elegant concert themed “A Renaissance Christmas.” (Photo courtesy The Folger Consort)

It’s no mystery that the Renaissance inspired great works of art, especially in the music realm. As a part of their holiday programming, The Folger Consort used the historical prominence of this period to create a meaningful theme for their annual Christmas concert. “A Renaissance Christmas” was both a vocal and instrumental feast elegantly capturing the musical influences of Italy and Flanders circa 1500. There was wonderful alternation between vocal and instrumental selections throughout the performance. Opening the program was the “Noë, Noë” by Antione Busnois, which served a short introduction to the program. Unlike the music of later musical periods, the music of the Renaissance leaves no room for anything less than accuracy, especially at entrances. The almost transparent musical texture provided the perfect parallel to the story of Christmas as presented in these songs.

However at times, this thin texture left ‘no room in the inn’ to hide when cadences did not uniformly reach their resolve or when the singers of the ensemble did not immediately feel entrances. As a whole, the instrumentalists of the consort along with founder Robert Eisenstein seemed to gel together consistently. Several gems emerged over the course of the evening. In the “Ave maris stella” by Jacob Obrecht, soprano Emily Noël and countertenor Mark Rimple blended beautifully together. Notably, Rimple also doubled with his instrumental colleagues on the lute with equal ease. The “Adoremus, te” was a wonderful showcase for the lower male voices, marked by a beautifully rounded sound that resonated into the intimate space. Baritone Matt Sullivan was a consistent standout, particularly in the “Cuius sacrata viscera” also by Obrecht.

In the “Gloria” from Ockeghem’s “Missa Prolacionem” tenor Aaron Sheehan‘s clear, lyric tenor set the tone for the excerpt effectively just as a cantor would in the context of a modern day church service. “In te Domine, speravi” by Josquin Desprez featured the voices of Noël, Sheehan and bass Michael McCarthy. Entering one voice at a time, the trio of singers seemed to truly sing with a sense of ensemble here. In an instrumental treatment of the “Ave maria” by Marco Cara, harpist Christa Patton shared some wonderful duet passages with Rimple on the lute that were both harmonious and delightful.

Bringing this musical journey to a close was “Cum jubili d’amore” by Innocentius Dammonis. A wonderful evening of music, brought together seamlessly by an overarching theme, made The Folger Consort’s annual performance an inspiring holiday program. Italian Amb. Claudio Bisogniero was in attendance with his wife, Laura Denise Bisogniero, and when we asked His Excellency how he enjoyed the concert, he replied, “very much. It was a beautiful program of music.” We couldn’t agree with the Ambassador more!

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