Review by Judith Caldwell
Since the ARTS REVIEW started critiquing its presentations, word has definitely spread about the calibre of the Hammer Baroque series of concerts. There was a near capacity crowd for the Toronto Consort’s Hamilton performance of music from the court of the Italian Queen of France – Catherine de Medici (1519-’89). Catherine was the daughter of a French noblewoman, Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, and Lorenzo de Medici and she was married at a young age to a French Prince who unexpectedly became King of France. As Queen, she was viewed with suspicion because of her Italian heritage, and derision because her father was ‘just a banker’, even though he was wealthier than the King.
She lived in turbulent times and was Queen Regent to three of her sons. Despite her ups and downs she had an almost religious devotion to music. She felt that if one listened to the ‘music of the spheres’ it would lead to right living and good decisions and she encouraged music and musicians of all kinds.
The Toronto Consort was founded in 1972 and is recognized internationally for their excellence in performing Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music. The nine members are Michele DeBoer, soprano; tenor/musical director David Fallis; Ben Grossman, percussion and hurdy-gurdy; Katherine Hill, soprano and bass viol; Paul Jenkins, tenor and harpsichord; Terry McKenna, lute and guitar; Alison Melville, recorder; John Pepper, bass and Laura Pudwell, mezzo-soprano. Each are superb musicians and together they produce music which does transport one back to a stately court era. The songs were all secular and mostly about love in its various disguises, although the afternoon began with a song in praise of the bucolic village life which sounded so perfect it is doubtful the author had ever even visited a village. This was followed by one of the few instrumental offerings on the wonderful renaissance instruments including the hurdy-gurdy which sounds like a cross between a violin and bagpipes.
The first love song was a seduction song which included the age-old line about why not do it, everyone else is? Another very amusing seduction song had a monk trying to convince a nun that their religious observances included naked encounters between the sheets. Not exactly the type of lyrics one expects in a 500-yr-old song, but it was presented with gusto. The other love songs ran the gamut from eager anticipation, to doubt of reciprocity, to longing for a lost love. They even included one calculating miss who, on being told by her parents that she was to wed in 6 weeks had already decided she would see the wealthy old spouse into his grave and then buy herself a younger man. The music ranged from a simple voice and lute duo to all six singers plus three instruments. It was varied, beautifully performed and although it was all in French there were English translations projected on the screen so that the audience could follow the meaning and understand the nuances of each song.
The well-deserved standing ovation at the end led to a delightful encore from David Fallis of a drinking song of the period dedicated to workers in print shops. As the printing press had so recently been invented these were the cutting edge tech workers of their time. This concert maintained the standard of excellence for which Hammer Baroque is becoming known. The ensemble’s next offering, is Dec 3rd at the Rock on Locke.