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The soloists were Kaitlyn Lusk, a soprano who knows how to sing into a mike and whose voice needs a mike, and boy soprano Xavier Flory, whose voice doesn't and for whom the amplification was not kind. On Friday, after a passage or two of a solo, Flory figured this out, stepped back and let the clarity of his voice speak more naturally. Both carried off their assignments with sensitivity and accuracy.
There was also a visual component to this production. Black-and-white sketches of an eye, the ring, a map of the shire, scowls, hands and other more ambiguous shapes were projected onto a large screen that hung down over the chorus. The chorus itself was highlighted, sometimes in red and sometimes in blue, and the orchestra was frequently gold (but sometimes green). All of this seemed to be more an add-on than an integral component of the music.
-- Joan Reinthaler
There's room for personality in the world of Renaissance music. Because few interpretive clues have been passed down, today's players are free to -- in fact, they need to -- put their own stamp on the music. But you wouldn't have found much personality in the playing of the Folger Consort Friday at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Much of the evening felt like little more than a run-through. Along with lackluster playing, the ensemble reversed the order of 15 pieces in the second half and substituted a tune in the first half, and didn't bother informing the audience until after the fact.The confusion drove listeners to the stage afterward to quiz the musicians about what they heard when.
To all but the Renaissance music connoisseur, this might have been a frustrating evening. The Consort employed more than a dozen eye-catching instruments -- recorders, flutes, lutes, viols, even a sackbut (medieval trombone), yet none was identified or explained.
In contrast to the presentation, Consort directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall took obvious care in choosing the music. The program, "Playing with Fire," grouped dances from England, France and Italy. Among the most affecting were a set of English country-dances.
Tom Zajac's mournful flute added warmth to "Long Cold Nights," which sounded like a sad Irish air. Another standout was "Schiarazula Marazula," one of Giorgio Mainerio's Italian dances from the 1570s. David Douglass's gutsy fiddle playing sped the dance to a frenzy, ending on a hilarious squawk from Zajac's bagpipe.
Maybe it was end-of-the-season-fatigue. Maybe it was an unscheduled personnel change (viol player Mary Springfels replaced Margriet Tindemans). But "Playing With Fire" only sparked, and never caught flame.
-- Tom Huizenga