Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 20, 2008

Awake, Sweet Love

Aston Magna
Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington
By Barbara Stroup

It was a privilege to hear the July 19 concert in the Aston Magna series on the bucolic campus of Simon’s Rock. This sampling of the consort song literature from 17th century England included both somber and humorous offerings performed exquisitely by soprano Roberta Anderson and a consort of viols.

From this brief period in England’s musical history, modern viol players and their audiences are fortunate to be left with a wealth of consort music which, by definition, requires a like-minded group of players with advanced yet equal technical and interpretive facility. This is exactly what was on offer. Jane Hershey, Emily Walhout, Sarah Cunningham, and Laura Jeppesen are authoritative performers of this literature and beloved teachers in the viol-playing community; they deeply honored both the music and the instrument with their performance.

According to Steven Ledbetter’s program notes, fantasias allowed the composer to play imaginatively with changing ideas. Changes in tempo help characterize these sequential ideas. In the consort’s capable hands, the four lines wove around each other with clarity and balance, demonstrating the best of the instrument’s sound as well as the players’ remarkable skills to both listen to each other and put forth individual lines. Tuning can suffer with gut strings even in dry weather; on this humid day, the audience was treated to perfect intonation.

The remarkable Roberta Anderson understood her contribution to be one of equal standing rather than that of solo, and blended her vocal line beautifully with the polyphony of the instruments. Sometimes in metaphoric excess, the songs dwell on love, life, and death. Anderson brought a respectful articulation to each theme with her unfalteringly clear and agile voice, always enhanced by the voice-like viols. Her considerable range never weakened as the program required her to sing like a cuckoo bird, mourn unrequited love, convey the meaning of life and death, and finally to call like a common street vendor in “The Cries of London.” The last piece left the audience convinced that “hot puddings, hot” and “white cabbage, white” were actually for sale outside, giving the audience both a lasting and a memorable taste of the Renaissance drawing room and street.