Newberry Consort plays with fire in the library

David Douglass and Ellen Hargis, co-directors of the Newberry Consort. – Photo courtesy of the Newberry Consort

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

The Newberry Consort closed out its 31st season at the end of last month with a concert examining many aspects of love. Under the title “Dangerous Love: Playing with Fire,” the ensemble grouped their music, nearly two dozen works, into six categories, including such headings as “Crazy Love,” “Jealousy”, and even “Grounds for Divorce.” It made for an evening of wide-ranging music and good fun. I was unable to attend the Consort’s Hyde Park performance so instead I made a trek up to the Newberry Library and heard them in Ruggles Hall, which was filled with appreciative fans.

Things got off to a fast and furious and fabulous start with La Ruggiera Canzon à 2 Violini by Tarquinio Merula. The ensemble’s violinists, David Douglass and Brandi Berry were pert and engaging and set the standard of performance for the evening.

All instrumental pieces were interspersed with works for voice, beginning with Monteverdi’s “Ohimè, ch’io cado” featuring soprano Ellen Hargis. She never pushed the vocal line and was supported with sensitivity by the instrumentalists, particularly Brandon J. Acker and David Walker, both on theorbo.

Merula’s “Amo, l’e ver” was given a marvelous treatment, infused with both big energy and quiet contemplation. Jeremy David Ward on bass violin was particularly exciting, providing a performance with the intensity of a heavy metal rocker, and sometimes the physical gyrations to match. At the end, the violins both sang and cried.

Charles Metz offered a fascinating look at 17th century chromaticism in Merula’s harpsichord solo Capriccio Chromatico. Metz offered marvelous dexterity and had a pleasing elasticity of tempo.

The concert also featured two singers who are members of the Newberry Consort Young Artist Mentorship Program. For Martino Pesenti’s “Ardo, ma non ardisco,” Ellen Hargis was joined by soprano and young artist Margaret Carpenter Haigh. Their duet featured attractive harmonies that the women executed crisply and both realized the dynamics of the music in fine fashion.

“Occhi, sfere vivaci” by Sances introduced another young artist, bass-baritone Daniel Fridley. After a charming strummed guitar introduction and more attractive soprano harmony, Fridley made his mark with strong, unforced singing and pretty tone.

There was great instrumental storytelling from the violins in Francesco Manelli’s Ciaccona, and great clarity in the various musical lines in Merula’s “La Lugarina.”

Fridley displayed his humorous side in “S’io son pazzo” where he donned a funny black mask with a long beaky nose. “If I am mad, what is it to you?” he sang while delightfully hamming it up.

Sinfonias Prima and Quarta by Salamone Rossi were given loving treatment, and the Newberry Consort proved that they were ready for anything the composer required.

After the intermission, the instrumentalists took on Rossi’s Sonata in dialogo detta la Viena, which opened in unassuming fashion but then gathered steam. Douglass and Berry led the way with fine violin work, with Ward providing vital support.

Hargas was at her best in Luigi Rossi’s “Anime, voi che sete dalle furie d’Abisso” with an interpretation attentive to both text and music, and imbued with understated elegance.

Fridley put his confidence and command on display with Mazzocchi’s “Cura contro la Gelosia” and was impressive with the strength of his lower register. His singing was natural and featured admirable articulation and clarity, even in the rapid runs.

Uccellini’s Sinfonia 34 had animated sound in the violins and a clear, exciting pulse, although Haigh seemed rushed in some of her vocal lines, as she did in Monteverdi’s “Voglio di vita uscir’.” Yet she has lovely sound as well as great potential.

The concert closed with Merula’s “No, ch’io non mi fido,” which had all the artists on stage. The music was catchy and the instrumentalists effective. Haigh was back in form, Hargis brought grace, and Fridley added to his attractive phrasing a solid acting base to augment the power of the music. The sopranos floated the high notes while Fridley reveled in the low parts of the score. It was merry music making and it left the audience more than satisfied.

The Newberry Consort’s 2018-19 season has been announced, and it includes four concerts, an increase over the three presented this year. The Consort offers three performances of each concert, one at the Logan Center here in Hyde Park, one at Galvin Recital Hall at Northwestern University, and one at Ruggles Hall in the Newberry Library. The upcoming season includes the return of Steve Player who will reprise his impersonation of the humorous Elizabethan performer Will Kemp.

For more details on next season, or to learn more about the Newberry Consort, visit its website: www.newberryconsort.org.