This CD comprises a double re-release. Mariners and Milkmaids is a tribute to some of the stock characters of 17th century English ballads and dances. Its breakdown of 11 anonymous pieces and eight from the seminal English Dancing Master by John and Henry Playford bears this out.
Toronto Consort is highly imaginative in its selection and very few of the tracks are those old favourites often encountered in early music compilations. Come Ashore Jolly Tar is a spirited interpretation which would grace any Celtic celebration with its exuberant violin playing and percussion, as would The Sailor Laddie. More thoughtful but no less intense is Gilderoy: one singles out Laura Pudwell’s solo mezzo-soprano. One also notes the confident way in which Toronto Consort’s artistic director David Fallis defeats the Spanish Armada in In Eighty Eight — and Queen Anne’s enemies in the Recruiting Officer!
The Toronto Consort finds time to showcase its soloists. Katherine Hill (soprano) sings of being The Countrey Lasse, accompanied only by Terry McKenna’s lute. Alison Melville’s recorder and flute playing excel in An Italian Rant and Waltham Abbey, which reminds us of the complex techniques she draws on for the virtuosic English Nightingale by Jacob van Eyck.
The latter is found on the second CD, O Lusty May. This is more a celebration of renaissance music as a whole, dipping into the continental European repertoire, and less dependent on anonymous popular pieces.
There is a real sophistication to Allons au Vert Boccage by Guillaume Costeley, each of the four singers enjoying their own prominent part. The pure exuberance of Thoinot Arbeau’s Jouissance immediately follows — could there have been a more appropriate title for this tune? The continental pieces make their mark — Laura Pudwell in La terre n’agueres glacée, Giovanni Bassano’s Frais et Gaillard with Alison Melville rising to the challenge of some intricate baroque recorder fingering, and Meredith Hall’s solo Quand ce beau printemps je voy.
William Byrd’s All in a Garden Green is the most courtly English piece, its divisions bearing little resemblance to the plaintive tune set to words for lovers and, later, English Civil War activists. Meredith Hall breathes (bird) life into This Merry, Pleasant Spring, while an animated quintet urges us to See, see the shepherds’ queen.
Buy these CDs for anyone new to early music — and for your own sheer delight!
Concert note: Toronto Consort presents
the Canadian premiere of Francesco Cavalli’s 1640 Italian opera The Loves of Apollo & Daphne February 15 and 16 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.