Saturday, January 23, 2010

Consort or Crossover?

"Early music" covers a lot of historical and stylistic ground, and this is bound to generate some friction between self-labled aficionados. Within that group there are those who have little or no interest in anything later than the 15th century, while I personally find such repertoire incapable of keeping me focused for an entire program – I'm more of a 17th and 18th century kind of guy. Indeed, I find much of the so-called Renaissance period to be a little "iffy" – if not downright stuffy – and have tended to cringe and avoid any group that proclaims itself a "consort."

Fortunately for me, I didn't let that get in the way of attending last night's presentation by the Baltimore Consort. The program "Adew Dundee" might have been viewed as a Scottish Renaissance love fest, complete with recorders, crumhorns, and viols, but it was really much more eclectic and should be viewed as "crossover": music and instruments from the period, but arranged and combined in an imaginative way that transcends limited historical practice. In other words, it was not academic, most definitely not stuffy, and indeed a lot of fun. This was a program that might have been based on "early music," but which would appeal to anyone looking for just plain tuneful and toe-tapping music.

Programming was carefully staged and the arrangements made maximum use of the available timbres, keeping the sound fresh. Well-known lutenist Ronn McFarlane wasn't shy about strumming his lute like a guitar, and his nylon-strung instrument was nicely contrasted with the twangy metal cittern played by Marc Cudek. I might add that the lute was very tastefully amplified, a reasonable concession to acoustics, but one that might annoy a purist. One fine moment of theatrics included dancing crumhorns, played by a very animated Mindy Rosenfeld and Larry Lipkis.

So, does the label "crossover" somehow cheapen the music? I hope not: Jordi Savall, Rolf Lislevand, Skip Sempé, and others are effectively introducing early music to those who might otherwise turn up their noses at it. I believe serious music can still be serious fun.