The Washington Early Music Festival returned in force this weekend, and with 32 events scheduled over the space of 29 days, the largest in scope it has ever been. Festival director Constance Whiteside said that the organization even turned away some groups that wanted to perform, in the interest of keeping the event, staffed by volunteers, at a manageable size. While in past years it has focused on a single country’s music, the theme this year is “Vices and Virtues,” which opens up a wider field of possibilities.
On Sunday afternoon St. Matthew’s Cathedral hosted one of the festival’s most high-profile acts, the Baltimore Consort. The program, called “The Ladyes Delight,” featured only a few of the dance tunes from the group’s CD of that name, focusing instead on ballads and other dance pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries. The ensemble’s fragile sound, with the melody mainly in the treble viol and a breathy, low transverse flute, was often murky in the cathedral’s large space. Mindy Rosenfeld’s virtuosic turns on higher-pitched flutes and one magnificently odd French branle — played on three whining crumhorns — set one’s foot tapping the most.
Most of these pieces were of an extremely light nature, reeling by and vanishing almost instantly from memory. Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, known for her work with the vocal quartet Anonymous 4, had a pleasantly simple tone, at her best in Thomas Campion’s melancholy lute song “Oft have I sighed,” a moving lament that provided greater musical interest than the other strophic ballads she sang. Countertenor Daniel Moody sang with a sweet, melancholy sound in Jehan Chardavoine’s setting of Ronsard’s “Ode à Cassandre,” a celebrated version of the “Carpe diem” poetic theme going back at least to ancient Rome.
Downey is a freelance writer.