In the first concert of its residency at the Rosslyn Spectrum, Hesperus showed how many different kinds of Renaissance and baroque music four people can perform in less than two hours. Sunday's program lived up to the promise of "dramas, stories, plots and intrigues" in the group's brochure. Each of the nine pieces had a strong element of plot and/or description; several included narrations with the music; and all called for virtuoso technique.
Soprano Rosa Lamoreaux provided a generous measure of drama with four vocal selections depicting people in the grip of conflicting emotions. "L'Astratto," by Barbara Strozzi, is a song about singing--a singer not quite sure of what she wants to sing, who vainly tries out various themes and styles. In Handel's "Sweet Bird," she admires and envies the virtuosity of a bird, superbly represented on the recorder by Scott Reiss. Purcell's "Bess of Bedlam" is a classic mad scene, and Tarquinio Merula's "Su la cetra amorosa" explores the conflicted feelings of a disappointed lover who feels a new love beginning and would rather just be numb for a while.
Reiss on recorder, Tina Chancey on viola da gamba and harpsichordist Webb Wiggins each had moments in the spotlight. Reiss played and discussed a series of melodies that used to be taught to songbirds in baroque pet shops. Wiggins, with Chancey narrating, played Bach's "Capriccio on the Departure of His Most Beloved Brother," vividly portraying the feelings of friends who tried to persuade him not to travel. Chancey, with Reiss narrating, played Marin Marais' painfully pictorial description of a gallbladder operation, including the patient worrying about the surgery, being strapped down, the incision, the removal of the gallstone and a final dance of joy when the operation ends successfully.
All three instrumentalists opened the program with "La Battaglia," a brief, pungent description of a battle by Adriano Banchieri that was a 17th-century answer to the "1812" Overture. This imaginative program was performed with a fine sense of the music's varied styles and descriptive values.