Folger's music presentation is fit for King Henry's court

By Charles Downey
Monday, October 4, 2010

The Folger Consort's latest program of Renaissance music, "Pastime With Good Company," lived up to its name. This outstanding selection of secular and sacred music from around the reign of King Henry VIII, heard Saturday evening, was timed to coincide with the upcoming production of Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" at the Folger Theatre. It was music worth hearing, most of it not familiar, performed with sensitivity and polish.

Sacred music for the Chapel Royal, performed by the six-man vocal ensemble Lionheart, was the most strikingly beautiful. Movements from the "Meane Mass" of John Taverner and some of the Proper chants for Trinity Sunday provided a framework like that of a Mass. The polyphony was balanced among the six voices, generally distributed among three or four parts, with bass Kurt-Owen Richards providing a solid but not growling foundation.

The sole countertenor (Lawrence Lipnik) was occasionally weak at the top of the texture, but that made the inner voices easier to distinguish. Most impressively, the ensemble switched effortlessly between the flowing, unmetered style of chant and the measured harmonies of unaccompanied polyphony, like William Cornysh's gorgeous motet "Ave Maria Mater Dei." The Renaissance English pronunciation of Latin observed by the singers, although justified by research, was jarring.

The secular portion of the concert consisted of love songs, comic songs and instrumental dances that were in favor at Henry's court, including some attributed to the king himself. The playing was just as fine as the singing, with standout performances from versatile multi-instrumentalist Tom Zajac on the virtuosic recorder solo in an arrangement of Henry VIII's "Tandernaken" and on the musette, a Renaissance bagpipe, as well as from viol player Mary Springfels, on the melodic line of "I'm going to my naked bed."

Because of problems obtaining visas, the Augsburg Cathedral Boys' Choir, which was scheduled to perform the Christmas concerts with the Folger Consort this December, has had to cancel. It was announced at this concert that the Tallis Scholars will perform instead, in one of the most fortunate performer substitutions in recent memory.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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