Thus did the UNC Consort of Viols entitle its April 11 recital, together with several other student performing groups, in Person Hall on the Chapel Hill campus of music from the 16th and 17th centuries by mostly Italian and English composers.
The opener was Thomas Tallis' setting of Psalm 2, "Why fumeth in sight," in which the violists accompanied themselves-not a practice we often think of for this instrument, as opposed to the lute, for example-singing the text, alas not provided in the program. Nor were any other texts or any notes about the composers provided, but director Brent Wissick, who variously conducted, played as a member of the group, or accompanied other performers, gave occasional oral commentary, and the singers gave spoken translations of their Italian texts. The members of the ensemble are Elizabeth Kramer, treble, Belinda Novik, tenor, Fred Thomsen, bass, and Lee Bidgood, bass.
A work by Giovanni Coperario, a.k.a. John Cooper-he apparently believed, perhaps rightly so, that he would have more prestige and a greater chance for glory if he changed his name to the Italian translation thereof-followed. It was "Luci Beate," a Fantasia a cinque in the style of a madrigal, whose text, if there ever was one, is lost.
This was followed in turn by Heinrich von Biber's Partita V from Harmonia Artificiosa, a five-movement piece that featured scordatura (deliberately mistuned) violins, performed by the Baroque Ensemble on period instruments, a harpsichord being substituted for the announced organ due to tuning problems with the latter after recent maintenance work on it. The instrumentalists were Lee Bidgood and Trevor Hutton, violins, Tyler Ray, cello, and Kevin Bartig, organ/harpsichord.
Next came another Fantasia, this one a quattro, by the aforementioned Coperario, on the viols, followed by a set of three English solo songs, one by Jacob van Eyck and two by Henry Lawes, performed by Wissick self-accompanying on bass viol. The latter two added a bit of levity to the proceedings. "Union in Love," representing a man expounding on the theme of opposites attracting and blending in marriage, included numerous bi-polar lines such as "She like the Alps, I like the Etna," and "She like the snow, I like the flame." "The Angler's Song" spoke of the singer's determination to forget life's labors, troubles, and woes by regularly and frequently engaging in the sport of angling.
The first half ended with Tylman Susato's "La Morisque" featuring the viols and the Moresca Dancers, a group of four graduate students in musicology (Peter Lamothe, Hayley Hall, Ethan Lechner, and Virginia Christy, director), wearing masks and jingle bells, performing a commedia dell'arte -type dance. After intermission, the Violas Nuovo, the new recruits who have been playing for less than a year (Trevor Hutton, treble, Scott O'Day, tenor, Forest Oliphant, treble, and Alex Danilowicz, bass), took the spotlight with Tallis' famous Canon, a Pavana alla Veneziana by Dalza, and a Tedesco and Saltarello by Mainerio.
The Viols then returned for a Pavana a tre by Thomas Lupo and a Gagliarda by Carlo Gesualdo. The evening ended with a group of three "Scherzi Musicali" by Claudio Monteverdi, featuring sopranos Shaina Vatz and Kemper LeCroy and baritone Nathan Hetherington in the outer two, "Dolci mei sospiri" and "O Rosetta," and tenor Dan Hinson in the central one, "Eri già tutta mia," all accompanied by the Baroque Ensemble and the dancers in a rousing finale. (Hetherington is, incidentally, the UNC Symphony Orchestra's Assistant Conductor.)
The audience, seemingly comprised primarily of classmates, family and friends, thus had an overview of the various dance rhythms that formed the basis for the music of this period and a good sampling of the bowed string instruments on which it was played. The performances were uniformly good throughout the evening; no one stood out head and shoulders above (or below!) the others. There were, as is always necessary with Baroque-type instruments, frequent re-tunings. Readers may consult the review in thearchives by colleagues Elizabeth and Joe Kahn of the recital at Duke by the Yukimi Kambe Viol Consort for more detailed information about viols. There was an occasional stray note or a wrong one, a scratchy one here, a squeaky one there, a shrill or sour one elsewhere, but those add up to only a few in the generally correct whole. These are students, not yet professional musicians, and it is good that there is an interest in that milieu in the instruments of this period. Previous generations came to it much later in their lives and careers. The audience received the program enthusiastically. The evening was a delight.