The core of the Washington Camerata consists of a soprano and a trio of instrumentalists who play a variety of recorders and flutes, bass viol and lute. For their concert at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church on Saturday, they were joined by Jesse Lepkoff, a recorder player, and Robert Petillo, a marvelous tenor, and, as a sextet, they performed a well-researched program they called "Golden Hits of 1571."
Much is made of the "Golden" age of the madrigal, the "Golden" period of music history, and so forth, but, in fact, 16th-century Northern Europe spawned an incredible number of true masters. The French composers tended to stay home, but many of the more numerous Flemish contingent migrated to Italy where the jobs were. So, at least in a historical sense, Saturday's program of the instrumental and vocal music of Italy and France actually featured the music of Flemish and French composers.
The playing was tasteful and assured and, on occasion, exceptionally beautiful. The anonymous "Hoboekentanz," which developed from a duet to a trio, finally to involve the whole ensemble, was delightful, as was the lovely Arcadelt duet, "Che piu foco," and Sermisy's "Languir me fais." Petillo brought a sense of language and nationalistic nuance that made each piece special, and Lepkoff played with a bright agility that was particularly fine.
With all this, however, the occasion seemed a little somber and slow. It takes unusual energy to maintain a sense of momentum through a couple of dozen short pieces when the audience is small, the instruments not very noisy and the languages foreign. The Washington Camerata needs to figure out how to accomplish this better.