Appreciation for the so-called “broken consort” is a quickly acquired taste. Music for the mixed ensemble that served Elizabethan and Jacobean England as theater orchestra and dance band is a varied, expressive and generally outgoing lot.
At least that was the case Saturday evening at Ambassador Auditorium, when the Julian Bream Consort gave the first of two different, unhackneyed programs, drawn in large measure from the group’s recently released “Fantasies, Ayres and Dances” recording.
It was only in the final numbers, however, that the performances by the full ensemble really moved to a plane beyond genial or earnest competence. In Dowland’s “Can She Excuse?” Galliard, and Morley’s “Join Hands” (the lone encore), tenor Robert Tear joined Bream and Co.--Nancy Hadden, flute; Catherine Mackintosh, treble viol; Jane Ryan, bass viol; James Tyler, cittern; Robert Spencer, pandora--in robust, stylish and equably arranged performances.
Otherwise, Bream monopolized musical attention in consort pieces by Byrd, Nicholas Strogers, Daniel Bachelar and Richard Allison with flashy divisions on the lute. The other players often seemed to provide simply static background for Bream’s elaborations.
Though Bream was certainly an important figure in popularizing the lute and its music, he was never at the front of the authenticity parade, and he still plays the lute as though it were a guitar. He has gathered an able, authoritative supporting cast, however, and they all received chances to shine.
Tyler had two solos by Anthony Holborne and an anonymous dance tune in which to display his quiet skill on the cittern--a long-necked, wire-strung instrument played with a plectrum. He also took up the tenor viol in an elegant, eloquent Fantasy by Byrd, in supple partnership with Mackintosh and Ryan. The three found an anonymous set of variations rougher going.
Jacob van Eyck’s truly virtuoso setting for solo flute of Dowland’s song “Come Again” gave Hadden her moment of glory, and breathtaking--almost literally--it was. She also took the lead in Richard Nicholson’s vigorous “Jew’s Dance.”
Tear, a guest with the consort, brought a clear, attractive voice and affectionate textual point to three Dowland songs, accompanied by Bream at his most pressing. Bream offered a Dowland Fancy as his solo turn, and joined Spencer in polite, straightforward accounts of two Dowland lute duets.
“Lasso Vita Mia,” one of Dowland’s probing adaptations of early Italian Baroque styles and techniques, found Tear in fervent, clarion voice, accompanied by both Bream and the two violists. Again, though, the performance went largely unembellished.
The large Ambassador audience listened intently, with nary a cough to disturb even the very soft cittern solos. Appreciative, though by no means insistent, applause brought the consort out for the Morley encore.