After partaking of "Florence: Christmas Music of the Trecento" played by the Folger Consort with animated singing by Trio EOS, the Dresser was filled and remains full of the peaceful joy that comes with the exuberant delivery of a program of praise songs (more formally known as laude) and dances. The two-hour program with one intermission offered a range of 14th century, mostly polyphonic compositions. Folger Consort artistic director Robert Eisenstein on medieval fiddle, recorder, and lute played with guest artists Christa Patton (harp, recorder, bagpipe), Mark Rimple (lute, psaltery, medieval fiddle), and Mary Springfels (medieval fiddle, citole).
Most of the program was done in sets of three to four pieces alternating between voice and instrumental performance. The opening composition "Altissima luce col grande splendore" established the role of sopranos Jessica Beebe and Michele Kennedy and mezzosoprano Maren Mantalbano. Mantalbano in this ethereal and joyful opening number stood out with her engaging stage presence that continued throughout the concert.
At the intermission, the musicians stayed on stage to talk one-on-one with audience members curious about the medieval instruments. Mary Springfels answered questions about the citole, which she said was particularly shaped for the strolling troubadour. Further enhancement of the evening included an intricate piece of precepe folk craft from Naples, Italy. Look for this display in an out of the way alcove at the back of the theatre. Precepe craft began in the 1200's in Italy when St. Francis of Assisi asked Giovanni Vellita from the village of Greccio to create a manger scene.
The central part of Italy seems to inspire happiness and creativity. Hilary Tham in her poem "In Tuscany" expresses the joy she felt in painting the Tuscan landscape, a landscape where olive trees are cut back to regenerate beyond their normal life span. Because music of the medieval period was rarely set down on paper much of it was lost. How lucky the audiences of the Folger Consort are to have their interpretations of this beautiful music.
IN TUSCANY (an excerpt)
I am happy painting light, the cultivated peace
of olive trees, their gnarled and strange shapes
as they are cut back again and again to regenerate
and bear fruit beyond the natural span
of uncut trees. Once, I bit into a ripe olive,
had to spit it out. The fresh olive is acrid,
it cannot be eaten until soaked in brine.
"I am a sculptor of marble," Michelangelo said,
cursing his fate that made the pope demand
he paint pictures on a chapel ceiling.
Strange how forcing nature achieves great yields.
by Hilary Tham
from Reality Check & Other Travel Poems & Art
Copyright © 2001 Hilary Tham