Review from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 20, 1999:
Good “Fortune” Spins a Winning Performance
Ah, to be in Paris in April. Thoughts of romance and baguettes, music and art museums. What's wrong with dreaming? Actually, a bit of medieval Paris came to Case Western Reserve University’s Harkness Chapel Saturday, when Fortune's Wheel offered a program, Songs of Love and Nature, filled with sacred and secular pieces.
The ensemble, making its debut in the “Chapel, Court, and Countryside: Early Music at Harkness” series, provided enchantment through vivid and subtle artistry. Fortune’s Wheel usually has five musical spokes, but John Fleagle was unable to participate Saturday due to illness. The evening became an intimate tribute to their colleague by vocalists Lydia Heather Knutson and Paul Cummings and vocalists-instrumentalists Shira Kammen and Robert Mealy, who functioned seamlesly in various configurations. Along the way, the musicians explored a range of religious and profane works, the bulk by the most prolific composer of all time, Anonymous, who wrote medieval pieces in a rich variety of forms, from dance pieces and love songs to celebrations of life and the pleasures of nature. Sprinkled among these works were songs by Adam de la Halle, also known as the hunchback of Arras, and Conon de Bethune, whose Chancon legiere includes sung and declamatory lines.
Fortune’s Wheel approaches everything with a genial brio or intensity of purpose that draws the listener deep into the music-making. Kammen and Mealy are quick-change artists who move easily from harps to viellesthe latter early violins with curved bows that could shoot arrowsand sing along as they play. On vielles, they sometimes become earthy, medieval country fiddlers, savoring the open fifths, embroidering lines with tasteful ornaments, even dancing nimbly about the stage.
Through almost two dozen pieces, the musicians of Fortune’s Wheel evoked myriad moods and covered enough subjects to satisfy anyone's interest. For the equestrian, there was de la Halle's Or est baiars en la pasture, performed a cappella by Knutson, Cummings and Kammen, who relished the whimsical turns of phrase. For the lovelorn, there was Bele Doette (Anonymous), a song of pathetic beatuy in which Knutson was the penetrating narrator and Mealy provided radiant accompaniment.
The music briefly diverged from French sources to present English variations on the estampie, an instrumental version of a vocal form. Kammen and Mealy took up one estampie from the Robertsbridge Codex in which vielles engage in contrapuntal conversation, complete with tricky rhythmic displacements and improvisatory gestures. It received a jaunty performance that was as virtuosic as it was joyful.
Thanks to Anonymous and the vibrancy of the playing and singing, the program had a neat balance between the naughty and the nice. Fortune’s Wheel takes its medieval business seriously and then transforms the music at hand and voice into living, breathing art. For their special handling of delicate material, these musicians deserve to reap a contemporary fortune.
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lydia knutson · aaron sheehan · shira kammen · robert mealy