Italian court music, tender and racy
The Boston Early Music Festival builds in intensity as the week unfolds, and the pace has officially started picking up. Yesterday the festival's exhibition opened at the Radisson Hotel, and at Jordan Hall, BEMF presented three different concerts - at 5, 8, and 11 p.m. - in addition to a performance of Monteverdi's "Coronation of Poppea" at Calderwood Pavilion. The crowd was modest in size for the early evening performance by the Italian ensemble Micrologus, but those in attendance seemed highly committed, clutching thick festival yearbooks and trading reports in the aisles about what they had already seen.
The modest turnout was probably due in part to the simple fact that Micrologus, which has been around since 1984, performs mostly in Europe and has not built a major profile in this country. It is nevertheless an accomplished group with a coherent ensemble sound and the ability to carry off both instrumental and vocal music with technical finesse and the casual air of musicians engaged in a jam session. For last night's concert, the lutenist Crawford Young joined as a guest artist.
The program was titled "Amours, Amours: Landscapes of Love, Lost and Found" and was devoted to 15th-century music from the Italian courts, including what felt like something of a grab bag of works by Agricola, Dufay, Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, and others. The whole concert would have benefited from a stronger framing in its program notes or in spoken commentary from the stage, but instead the group just ticked through its prepared selections and let the music speak for itself.
Instrumental works were mixed with vocal pieces on romantic subjects both elevated and less so. Hayne van Ghizeghem's three-voice rondeau "De tous bien plaine" compared a lover's virtues to those of a goddess, while Agricola's "Je ne suis point" offered frank musings on endurance in the bedroom.
Goffredo Degli Esposti's dramatic bagpipe playing was well supported by Gabriele Miracle's percussion work in Ebreo's "Amoroso." But it was the warm and beautifully blended singing of Patrizia Bovi, Mauro Borgioni, and Simone Sorini that made the vocal repertoire on whatever subject the clear highlight of this program. The concert ended with a joyful, rhythmically swinging rendition of an anonymous barzelletta titled "Alle stamengne, donne." Micrologus returns tomorrow with a 14th-century Italian program, at 11 p.m. in Emmanuel Church.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.