Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Peabody Consort invites Indianapolis Early Music Festival around the world of King Henry VIII

The Tudor king Henry, the eighth of that name to occupy the English throne and the most influential serial monogamist in English history, wrote music, collected instruments and patronized musicians.

The Peabody Consort, with director Mark Cudek (center).
His in-laws, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, likewise are figures of cultural importance — both as models (admired by Machiavelli) of monarchical power and as contributors to the woes of Jewish diaspora.

Examples of 16th-century courtly connections to music embraced by Henry's wide circle made up the next-to-last program of this year's Indianapolis Early Music Festival on Friday night at the Indiana History Center. Artistic director Mark Cudek's Peabody Consort presented music of the era, interspersed by dramatic readings about music, monarchy and Jewish exile engagingly recited by Robert Aubry Davis.

When Davis said: "Mark, the music," to end his first verbal selection, he wasn't just cuing Cudek, but quoting the conclusion of a famous speech in "The Merchant of Venice" praising music's power. Shakespeare often alluded to this authority, and Friday night the Peabody Consort exemplified it.

The most outstanding aspect of the concert was the participation of a superbly matched vocal duo, soprano Julie Bosworth and countertenor Daniel Moody. They were extensively used in a variety of repertoire, including a wide range of musical considerations of love. The remorse following a too-hasty marriage was delightfully outlined in "Will Said to His Mammy," by Robert Jones (1583-1633). And Henry VIII's chanson "Helas madame" indicated movingly his affinity for the travails of love, although his social position always seemed to give him the upper hand.

The ethnic intensity of songs of the Sephardic Jews were chiefly conveyed by Bosworth. She began her set in the second half with the terse murder ballad "El mi querido," sung with an almost nasal intensity characteristic of Iberian folk music.  In "Dos Amantes," the young woman's lament to her mother of the difficulty of choosing between two lovers gathered instrumental support as it went along. It also accelerated smoothly, as the woman indicates that she will follow her heart, come what may, and leave behind the suitor she's deceiving.

A flirting dialogue, with apt movement and gestures, concluded the printed program. "Avrix mi glanica" put the eager male voice against the tempted but cautious female voice in a dialogue that ends the way the boy intended, as the couple runs away. The staging was apt and never threatened to dominate the polished vocal display.

The balance of instrumental and vocal numbers was expertly sustained. The panache of the main featured instrumentalists — lutenist Brian Kay, recorder player Justin Godoy, and viol players Jeffrey Grabelle and Niccolo Seligmann — was continually in evidence. This was idiomatic playing that veered into an almost offhand virtuosity from time to time. Director Cudek, in addition to precise cittern strumming, contributed crucial percussion often, evincing a graceful command of the tambourine in particular.

The Early Music Festival concludes Sunday afternoon as Hesperus returns as a festival guest, playing Spanish Renaissance and colonial music as the sound track to the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. silent classic, "The Mark of Zorro."