Folger, Deft and Dulcet

Monday, January 9, 2006

The Folger Consort sang and played period instruments at Washington National Cathedral Friday night in a performance both moving and spectacular. After a hauntingly beautiful tribute in memory of the musicians' colleague and friend Scott Reiss, the program began with the luminous musical delights of the late Renaissance, then turned to the passionate drama of early baroque opera. Consort members are seasoned artists deeply involved in everything they perform and sensitive to the expressive dimensions of music centuries old -- some ardent, some playful -- while making it relevant to the present.

Palestrina's motets and Mass movements dwell on a central emotion transported through gleaming, closely interwoven textures. The musicians soared through its smoothly overlapping cadences with a sound both glistening and sweet. But Monteverdi concentrates on successive single words, their imagery pouring out into highly elaborated melodic lines and jarring dissonances. Nowhere was the glory of Friday's music more overwhelming than in countertenor Drew Minter's profoundly poignant account of Monteverdi's "Pianto della Madonna," a sacred revision of the surviving aria from his lost opera, "L'Arianna."

The instrumentalists -- on violins, recorder, viol, theorbo and organ -- brought light and air to assorted works with deft passage work and flexible embellishments. Ten strong, the entire company climaxed the evening with a jubilant, dancing version of Monteverdi's Psalm setting "Beatus Vir."

-- Cecelia Porter

© 2006 The Washington Post Company