The Folger Consort opened its new year Saturday night at the Folger Library with music from the edge of the Old World: Spanish and Portuguese songs of the 13th and 14th centuries. Included were the sublime "Cantigas de Santa Maria" as well as lesser known selections from "Las Huelgas Manuscript" and the "Libre Vermell," and love songs by Martin Codax. If the evening was problematic, the problem was not the repertoire but the performers.
The Folger Consort is a dull group. Its collective taste in music is wonderful, its musical realizations of early scores are competent, its playing is often correct. What is missing from its music is life. On Saturday the mood was somber even in the love songs, and the players' beat was close to a clock but far from the human heart.
Soprano Ann Monoyios had an operetta timbre of unpolished silver, thinner when pressed and affected in the appoggiature predecessors of flamenco that abound in the "Huelgas Manuscript." She did have some lovely notes, and when these coincided with the score the sound was pretty. With the exception of Christopher Kendall's lively lute, the instrumentalists were seldom acceptable. Intonation was more ill-tempered than necessary in the strings, there was breathlessness in the phrasing of the recorders, and more rehearsal was evidently needed: The soprano was forced to stop mid-phrase in a Kyrie to reach an agreement with the wind player.