The 13th Boston Early Music Festival opened Monday night with a rather unfestive concert by the prominent Dutch early-music ensemble Camerata Trajectina.
The program consisted of Dutch seafaring songs from the 17th century presented by three singers -- tenor Nico van der Meel, soprano Hieke Meppelink, and baritone Hans Wijers (the best voice) -- and four instrumentalists who sometimes joined in for the choruses. The liveliest of the players was Saskia Coolen, a nimble-fingered, long-breathed recorder virtuoso with a big personality.
All the songs were jaunty and some were ribald; they dealt with unfaithful wives, sea battles, and whores in every port.
The most mordant was an account of cannibalism, dryly delivered by van der Meel with three female backup singers; one thought of Brecht and Weill. Occasionally secular texts enlivened music originally written for the church, with entertaining results.
But there wasn't much variety within the program, and after a while one wished these excellent performers would move on to another genre. There was little forward momentum because each song was introduced with a heavily accented paraphrase of the notes and translations that were already in the public's hands. Jordan Hall was sweltering -- two of the three air-conditioning units were down -- and the performers delivered these informal songs peering into their music-and-word books. The program might have been more appropriate in one of the festival's late-night venues, such as Jacob Wirth's restaurant. Tankards of ale might have sped things along, and in addition to hearing the praises of pickled herring sung, we could have ordered some, too.