Review from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 24, 2005:
Fortune’s Wheel turned to “Music of the Valois” Saturday night at Case Western Reserve University's Harkness Chapel. The rewards were large as the four-member ensemble took listeners on a fascinating musical tour through the Burgundian courts of Philip the Good and Charles the Bold.
The flowing medieval music was as intricately woven as the exquisite tapestries in “Dukes & Angels,” the recent Cleveland Museum of Art exhibition that inspired the choice of esoteric repertoire.
The program focused on chansons by the great 15th-century Burgundian composers Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois. There were also a couple of lively instrumental dances and a final set that culminated in a contrapuntal work by Renaissance master Josquin des Prez.
Songs of courtly love, sung in Old French, expressed flowery sentiments and anguished emotions. The ensemble's two vocalists and two instrumentalists took turns singing and playing polyphonic lines. Each artist brought a distinctive sonority and personality to the historically informed interpretations. Yet they performed together with a fine sense of teamwork.
Mezzo-soprano Lydia Heather Knutson produced a pure and centered tone that was ideally suited to the ancient style. Her clarion voice gleamed in Amoureux sui, a joyous love song by Binchois, and she penetrated to the heart of the same composer's Dueil angoisseus, an impassioned death wish expressing inconsolable grief…
Tenor Aaron Sheehan stood quietly as he poured out poetic texts with lovely tone and sensitive nuance. Especially moving was his interpretation of Binchois’ profound lament, Ay, doloureux.
Versatile instrumentalist Shira Kammen alternated on medieval fiddle, harp and viol, and she also filled out the harmonic texture by singing difficult vocal lines that were written with the wide leaps of instrumental parts. Her fiddle matched the one played by Robert Mealy, who also alternated on harp and viol and joined in the singing at one point.
Although the players’ light instrumental sonorities blended smoothly with the voices, they sounded like country fiddlers digging into their strings at a hoe-down when they took the solo spotlight in a couple of rhythmic basse dances. A warming treat in the dead of winter, the concert was presented as part of the excellent series, “Chapel, Court & Countryside: Early Music at Harkness.”
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lydia knutson · aaron sheehan · shira kammen · robert mealy