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Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012

Early Music Now Visits 14th-Century Italy

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Where else would one hear a concert of music from 14th-century Italy except at Early Music Now (EMN)? At the Cathedral of All Saints on Saturday, guest artists Margriet Tindemans and Shira Kammen played vielle (a forerunner of the violin), harp and rebec (a three-string bowed instrument), and occasionally sang. The duo was joined on some pieces by percussionist Danny Mallon, a last-minute substitution for a player prevented from travel by a family emergency.

In general, the program alternated dance music and laments. Some of the pieces were imbued with compositional complexity; others had strong echoes of folk music. As with much early instrumental music, some arranging is often required. Tindemans took this a step further in composing two original, engaging pieces in the style of the period.

Tindemans and Kammen play with easy precision, fluency and style. They phrase with the long experience of seasoned veterans in this period music. Expressive, almost vocal playing was heard at times, such as in the free melody of “Ballata i'voi che tu ritrovi Amore” by Gherardello da Firenze. Technically impressive, nimble and lively jigs were not entirely unlike the fiddling of a Bluegrass master. Mallon lent subtle but tasty touches on the drum. On the few sung numbers, Tindemans and Kammen sang with the clarity of instrumentalists.

If there was an aesthetic danger in this likable and more than pleasant program, it was the sameness of sound and the limited dynamic range inherent with these instruments, though my attention was effortlessly held throughout.

Since September I have spent 14 weeks working in Europe, and attended various performances in Italy, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, marveling at the intently quiet listening of the audiences, especially in Germany. American audiences in general are much more restless. (The coughing and jittering at MSO, for instance, can sometimes reach an annoying level.) It was a happy discovery, attending my first American concert in several weeks, to find this capacity audience silent, still and attentive, and certainly no less engrossed than European audiences. Much credit goes to EMN for cultivating this devoted audience with consistent, high-quality concerts.