Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 25, 2017

Music from the Court of Isabella d’Este”

Aston Magna Music Festival, St. James Place, Great Barrington MA
July 22, 2017
by Barbara Stroup

To conclude their 45th season, Aston Magna Festival offered a concert of 16th century court music, and related their program specifically to the “first woman of the Renaissance,” Isabella d’Este. The concert was thematically organized, beginning with “Infidelity” and ending with “Time to Fish”! Evidently, both of these activities were plentiful; because of her voluminous letter writing, we know they both affected Isabella’s life. Excerpts from her letters (over 12,000 survive), were read with clarity and drama by violist Laura Jeppesen, and were an apt introduction to each section of the program. They ranged from poignant words to the humorous, and were effective in drawing modern listeners into the daily life of a 16th century woman of privilege.

Deborah Rentz-Moore and Aaron Sheehan
Featured were singers Deborah Retz-Moore (mezzo) and Aaron Sheehan (tenor). Both had total command of the music and complimented each other and the instruments well. Although the first half labored to overcome the aural limitations of tessitura and dynamic range, it was highlighted by the “J’ay pris amours” set. This melody (hit song of the age) wears well.

Laura Jeppesen on tenor and bass viol, were joined by Jane Hershey and Emily Walhout on similar instruments. Their ensemble was solid and secure, their sound clear and smooth, and Walhout’s treble playing especially engaging. It might benefit other ensembles for these instrumentalists to share their secret of playing in perfect tune without frequent onstage re-tuning of their gut-strung viols. Isabella, patroness of musicians, poets, and artists would have enjoyed this musical offering.