Every musical occasion exists in a specific time, in a particular place and in a unique energy field. Important performances result when musicians use their resources fully within the parameters imposed by these contexts.
Such a performance occurred Sunday afternoon at the first 1986 concert of the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series.
This one took place at Patriotic Hall, a county facility built in 1926 that overlooks the Harbor Freeway and is still in use (as a home for veterans groups) at 1816 S. Figueroa St.
The Folger Consort, an ensemble of three instrumentalists plus singer, offered a program of Renaissance and pre-Baroque music from Dufay through Frescobaldi, performing at one end of the rectangular, vaulted foyer (with a stenciled ceiling) of the six-story building before a rapt audience of more than 250 listeners--not one of whom chose to cough during a generous, full-length program.
The dryness and preciosity which can pervade performances of this repertory were nowhere to be heard in these bright, sweet, subtle, light, spirited and emotionally resonant readings by soprano Johana Arnold, Robert Eisenstein (on vielle and viol), Christopher Kendall (on lute) and Scott Reiss (on recorders).
Every piece sounded important, every musical statement sincere, every phrase well-considered.
After an association of eight years, the three instrumentalists--who are in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.--operate as the tightest of self-listening ensembles.
Each member contributes the full measure of sound and interest to his fellows, and at the same time derives maximum communicative strength from them.
To have placed the Consort in the adjacent, 700-seat auditorium--as intimate and handsome as it may be--would have been a mistake, for the ensemble's sounds, though hardy, probably do not travel clearly over distances greater than those encompassed in this foyer.
Yet, here, those sounds proved seductive, textually illuminating and musically characterful.
In groups devoted to Dufay pieces, Josquin pieces, frottole, madrigals and ricercars and early Baroque expressions by Frescobaldi and the brothers Monteverdi, soprano Arnold delineated sharply the emotions expressed by several, disparate love-struck victims, assisted sensitively by her colleagues.
Arnold's attractive tone proved pure but not lifeless, her application of vibrato tasteful and her word-coloring impeccable.
Individually, the three instrumentalists shone, often virtuosically, but sometimes through a courageous understatement--happiness for some listeners can be an eloquent phrase, quietly spoken. Kendall displayed his virtues most articulately in a Fantasia by Francesco da Milano, Eisenstein in a Recercada by Diego Ortiz.
Reiss' special soloistic moments were several, perhaps the most demanding and showy in a program addition, a Sonata in C by Giovanni Battista Fontana. But he shone also in a Pavana and Gagliarda by an anonymous composer; in frottole by Francesco Layolle and Bartolomeo Tromboncino, and in Vincenzo Ruffo's "La Gamba."
The single encore was Claudio Monteverdi's--earlier, we had heard Giulio Cesare Monteverdi's stunning display-piece, "De chi tace"--"Damigella, tutta bella," in which viol-player Eisenstein, for the second time in the afternoon, repaired to the recorder in commanding duettic harness with Reiss.