The Kronos Quartet was revolutionary in the respect that it made a conscious effort to appeal to all age groups at once, with tense and anxious performances like Black Angels (Nonesuch, 1990). The ensemble Red Priest did this same thing, reducing Vivaldi and his friends to a bare minimum, creating some very provocative music in the bargain. It has been a standard of practice for younger 21st century chamber players to attempt to add an edge to old and new scripts as well as update their appearance in like.
A nuclear success in these efforts lies in the youthful and sexy Canadian quartet I Furiosi. This little band is made up of soprano Gabrelle McLaughlin, violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman and cellist Felix Deak. All members have connections with other ensembles and projects in addition to their chores for I Furiosi. Nosky and Wedman are members of the Kirby and Eybler String Quartets while Nosky, Wedman and (I Furiosi founder) Deak are shared with Toronto's Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Wedman's solo effort Biber Mystery Sonatas has also met with much warm praise. McLaughlin is well established in the vocal camps of education and performance in Toronto and is a founding member (with Deak) of I Furiosi as well as the group's programming coordinator.
I Furiosi has been gaining traction in the last several years with two fine releases of Baroque music rendered in a most unusual and stylistically satisfying way. Singer McLaughlin has assembled a disc of lute songs that fit well with the overall theme that "everything that is old, is new again." Tip back that mug of mead and enjoy!
Defiled Is My (Middle) Name is titled after a verse attributed to Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), second wife of Britain's King Henry VIII, while imprisoned and awaiting execution. The lyrics were set to music by one Robert Johnson (not the African-American blues icon of the early 20th century, but the lutenist and composer from Tudor era England). It is a necessarily plaintive piece that reveals McLaughlin's ethereal soprano, a blend of the sacred and profane. A single voice, two violins and viola da gamba: baroque music for small, intimate places, not grand chambers but quaint parlors before ancient fires.
I Furiosi's book contains the familiar (Uccellini and Biber) and the not so (Rosenmuller and Tarditi). This is music from the early Baroque, before the arrival of Bach and his progeny, Handel or Scarlatti. It is simply arranged and performed with a couple of surprises. The Irish lament "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye" holds up well, particularly in McLaughlin's liquid crystal soprano. And the big surprise in a hidden track where "House Of The Rising Sun" is taken back to its British sixteenth century folk song roots, proving in music the actual lineage of this hymn of the depraved and unwashed.
This disc serves as a grand introduction to smaller scale Baroque performance, managed in a scintillating, modern way. I Furiosi is a group to watch, one not given to mere appearance updating alone. Their performances are both stimulating and revelatory.
Provocative and sexy (in an odd, medieval sort of way) Defiled Is My (Middle) Name does much to breath young air into old music, making it interesting, if not vital, to a new generation of listeners. I Furiosi's second recording, Crazy, takes the premises established on the first recording and reordering them into what could be considered a stripped down Baroque parlor recital, circa 1690.
The quartet sneaks in more notable names like Handel, Veracini and Vivaldi while reprising Uccellini. The recital is introduced instrumentally with a Dario Castello sonata before bringing out English composer Jonathan Eccles' "I Burn, My Brain Consumes To Ashes" from his collaboration with Thomas d'Urfey Don Quixote. After a crisp Veracini sonata, McLaughlin sings "E Pur Cosi/Piangero La Sorte Mia" from Handel's Giulio Cesare.
In this manner the disc is well paced finishing with Tobias Hume ("Deth"), John Blow ("Lysander I Pursue"), and (the curveball) Leonard Cohen (Suzanne). Cohen's piece echos the Irish hymn "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye" and "House Of The Rising Sun" from Defiled Is My (Middle) Name as intelligently handled modern songs by the quartet. These three pieces, separated by 500 years, hang well together in their melancholy, revealing the threads that mesh music as a single, timeless expression.
Technically not an I Furiosi release, Swell Burst And Dye bears too many connections not to be included. This is a collection of medieval lute songs sung by Gabrielle McLaughlin with lutenist Lucas Harris, who played theorbo and guitar on the previously mentioned Crazy. McLaughlin reveals the totality of her command of her material with this survey of the lute song (that, while containing the necessary amount of Dowland, does allow the presence of some of his friends).
A pair of John Danyel tunes opens the disc, the sung lute anthem "Like As The Lute Delights" followed by the pensive and exact instrumental "Pavan." Danyel is the best represented along with Thomas Campion. McLaughlin's singing is crystal clear and Lucas Harris' playing uniformly fine. Sonically, the music is captured warmly with a little smoke. Swell Burst And Dye serves as a more than adequate sampler disc of lute songs for the uninitiated.
Tracks and Personnel
Defiled is My (Middle) Name
Tracks: Defiled Is My Name (Queen Anne's Lament); Sonata Prima; Ricercar For Solo Cello; Beatus Vir Qui Timet Dominum; Morte De Lucrezia; Partia IV For Harmonia Artificioso-ariso; Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye; Cristo E Nato.
Personnel: Gabrielle McLaughlin: soprano; Aisslinn Nosky: violin; Julia Wedman: violin; Felix Deak: cello, viola da gamba; Olivier Fortin: harpsichord; Stephanie Martin: organ; Graham Hargrove: frame drum; Ed Reifel: snare drum.
Tracks: Sonata Decima A 3; I Burn, My Brian Consumes To Ashes; Passagallso fFom Sonata XII in D minor; E Pur Cosi.
Personnel: Gabrielle McLaughlin: soprano; Aisslinn Nosky: violin; Julia Wedman: violin; Felix Deak: cello, viola da gamba; James Johnstone: harpsichord; Stephanie Martin: organ; Lucas Harris: theorbo, guitar.
Swell Burst and Dye
Tracks: Like As The Lute Delights; Danye Pavan; See Where She Flies; What If I Never Speed; Galliard; When The God of Merrie Love; When Thou Must Home To Shades Of Underground; Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens; Mrs. M. E. Her Funerall Tears For The Death Of Her Husband; Mall Symes; Time, Cruell Time; I Saw My Ladye Weepe; Forlorne Hope Fancy; Rosamund Pavan; The Sypres Curtaine Of The Night.
Personnel: Gabrielle McLaughlin: soprano; Lucas Harris: lute.