This Sunday afternoon program of Renaissance and Baroque works was sponsored by the Echo Cooperative, and featured Mindy Rosenfeld, flute, and Ronn McFarlane, lute. Mr. McFarlane used a Renaissance lute (with 17 strings in 10 courses, singles and doubles) and a Baroque lute (with 24 strings in 13 courses including a complete diatonic octave in the bass). Ms. Rosenfeld used alto and tenor cross-blown flutes in designs from both Renaissance and Baroque periods in addition to fifes, a Baroque harp and a small German bagpipes. The only accommodations to the modern world was that the Renaissance flute was constructed with a larger bore than is historically accurate and the lutes use nylon and alloys for their wrapped strings rather than silk and silver or gut.
Three dance tunes written before 1600 by Cesare Negri and Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta began the afternoon, followed by slightly later pieces by John Addson (published 1611) and John Dowland (1563-1626), who was the only Renaissance composer on the program that I would term a familiar name. By the time we moved to the Baroque period, the audience was appreciating the musicians’ impeccable intonation (not easy on early flutes), the authentic ornamentation and the conviction of the performances.
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755) was a prolific French composer of the Baroque period, and his Suite No. 1 in E minor is a showcase for the traverso (cross-blown flute). Mr. McFarlane realized the continuo part (accompaniment) with grace. This six-movement suite is a gem and showed why Bodin de Boismortier became rich selling his music in Paris. Next came an Andante by J.S. Bach, as if to remind us that in the same time period (Bach’s dates are 1685-1750) in north Germany, music of even greater sophistication and depth was being created by one of the masters of the High Baroque.
The final works before intermission were focused on Scotland. Some traditional Scots melodies were performed, but also a composed piece. James Oswald’s “The Laurel” blends folk rhythms (the famous Scotch snap) and classical techniques in a delightful piece that was originally written for the Highland bagpipes but was here performed on the Baroque flute (handling the chanter part) with the drone part transcribed onto the Baroque lute. This transcription was an excellent idea, and the result was subtler and even more engaging than hearing the work on the pipes.
After intermission, Ms. Rosenfeld used a replica Baroque harp during a brief return to the Renaissance with additional dance pieces. The gem of the second half, however, was George Frederick Handel’s Flute sonata in G (HWV 363b), normally heard with the continuo played on harpsichord but here demonstrating the beauty and balance of flute and lute. This work and the Bodin de Boismortier were the two major compositions around which this fascinating recital was built. A group of traditional Celtic pieces on flute and lute and a late Renaissance work on small pipes and lute concluded the program.
Mindy Rosenfeld and Ronn McFarlane are scholars of early music as well as fine performers. Their distinguished resumes include membership in distinguished ensembles such as the Baltimore Consort and San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. We were fortunate to have their presence in Asheville, however briefly, and to hear authentic performances of some fascinating early music.