The Musicians of Swanne Alley, a youthful early music ensemble based in Rochester, Mich., brought freshness and commitment to a program of late Renaissance English music Monday at Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena.
While such intimately intended music sounded somewhat remote and frail in the large, 1,260-seat hall, the six-member ensemble--David Douglass, Lyle Nordstrom, Patricia Adams Nordstrom, Paul O'Dette, Christel Thielmann and Emily Van Evera--made every effort to overcome the spatial distances and succeeded in projecting the simplicity, variety of expression and lyricism in the works.
Highlights included O'Dette and Collard's exquisite playing of three lute duets by John Johnson, John Daniel and an anonymous composer of the period; O'Dette's two impressive lute solos ("Lord Hay's Coronto" and Edward Collard's "As I Went to Walsingham") and the unaccompanied vocal trio, "Of all the birds," sung by Van Evera, O'Dette and Lyle Nordstrom.
Most of the vocal responsibilities, however, fell solely to Van Evera, who brought a pure and narrowly focused soprano to Robert Johnson's "Where the Bee sucks," Charles Tessier's "In a grove most rich of shade" and Dowland's "Now, O now I needs must part" (given as the encore), but who also exhibited a noticeable degree of steely tone and nasal twang elsewhere.
The ensemble generally showed eminent skill and versatility, switching from viols to recorders to choral accompaniment as needed, and playing with clarity, lively rhythms and cascading embellishments. Douglas' virtuoso violin playing is particularly worthy of mention.