January 2007

The Musicians in Ordinary | A New Year’s Day Concert from 17th Century Vienna
January 1, 2007Heliconian HallToronto
Not a Lot of Lute
by Anna Lisa Eyles
The Muscians in Ordinary’s published program had a schedule of 19 works for their untraditional, traditional performance of Viennese chamber music from the 1600’s on New Year’s afternoon. The program’s length was slightly alarming at first glance but easily explained in that most lute pieces are of rather short duration, perhaps as a concession to the repeated necessity of tuning the lute.

Johann Matheson, child singer, violinist and composer, ca.1720, jested that if a lutanist lived to the age of eighty, he would have spent sixty of them just tuning his lute. Since the tuning pegs are wooden friction pegs with no gears or metal, the humidity and age of the instrument affect the tuning. This was certainly the case on this rainy afternoon with a litany of lute by lutanist John Edwards and his ensemble.

Featuring soprano Hallie Fishel and her husband Christopher Verrette on violin as well as Cristina Zacharias on 2nd violin and Laura Jones on the bass viol, the program presented the music of many of the lesser known Italian composers working in the Vienese court during the Baroque period. From 1567 to 1688, Monteverdi to Schmelzer, Sances to d’India, a representational cross-section of the musical complexity and the textural development of the period were demonstrated.

All of the players in The Musicians in Ordinary, are specialists in this period music and all have many individual strings to their bows. Each of them were featured during the program, in between the periods of tuning the lute.

The lute or ‘oud’, meaning either wood or string, made its transition from the Muslim world to the Christian, around the 4th Century. Primarily used to accompany singers, by the 1500’s it had become an extremely popular solo instrument. During the Baroque period, variations of lute construction dramatically evolved not only in breadth of range, by varying the number of strings from six to up to thirty-five, but in length, to upwards of six feet which leads us to the theorbo and archlutes, favoured by Edwards.

Hallie Fishel and John Edwards

It is a credit to soprano Hallie Fishel’s training that while fighting a cold so aggressive that it required Kleenex on stage, she was able to sing at all. As her voice warmed, the roundness of her tone developed, though notably the program was truncated, perhaps due to lute tuning.

The small hall, packed to overflowing well before the program was to have begun, had many regular attendees well versed in lute performances. The audience persuaded the group to play an encore and two more curtain calls followed. A rainy afternoon, an appreciative audience, a thoughtful program and musicians who love the music they explore, left me wishing for just a little bit more lute.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Anna Lisa Eyles
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