For Christmas, Folger Consort performs for the lay people (of 14th-century Italy)
By Joan Reinthaler,
In 14th-century Italy the clergy may have intoned their increasingly polyphonic musical offerings in the formal Latin of the Church, but there was also a whole other body of religious music more accessible to the people, lyrically melodic and with texts (many of them suited to the Christmas season) in the Italian vernacular. These were called “laude,” and Anonymous was their most prolific composer. The Folger Consort’s Christmas-season offering, “Florence: Christmas Music of the Trecento,” is a program of these laude, along with a smattering of purely instrumental dances. It opened at the Folger Theatre on Friday and runs through Dec. 23. This is mesmerizing music and, performed with the quietly introspective vocal exultation of the women of Trio Eos, it was a powerful antidote to Mall Madness.
Laude may have been the popular religious music of the day, but there’s nothing simple about them. Their melodic lines are intricate and highly ornamented, and Trio Eos’s sopranos Jessica Beebe and Michele Kennedy and mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano soared along the music’s contours with weightless accuracy.
Robert Eisenstein, a Consort founding member, and three guest artists — Christa Patton, Mark Rimple and Mary Springfels — supplied the instrumental contributions to the program, playing on an assortment of viols, harps, recorders, lutes, a shawm and a bagpipe. As accompaniment to the laude, they served largely as comfortable and unobtrusive harmonic drones. On their own, however, they danced through pieces that were earthly and foot-stomping (and familiar) and, particularly in the “Benedicamus” duet for two viols and an “Ave Maris Stella” for harp and lute, collaborated in ensembles that were exquisitely shaped and introspective.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.