Review by Danny Gaisin
The term ‘baroque’ is defined as irregular or imperfect, but also refers to the 17th to mid 18th century artistic period…especially in music. If not enunciated properly, the meaning refers to impecunious or empty-pocketed…something most of us scribes have suffered! Hamilton’s “Hammer Baroque” organization brought the 45 year-old octet to perform the music and songs associated either directly or contemporary of William Shakespeare’s theatre and England. The group are renowned not only for their vocal & instrumental authenticity, but their making every performance a learning experience – even for the musically enlightened. We, as first-timers were impressed.
Artistic director as well as percussionist and tenor vocalist David Fallis prefaced each segment with erudite historical explanation as well as making a connotation to the Bard’s rationale for the inclusion of music, both for effect and familiarity of his late 1500’s audience. Familiarity with every play discussed obviously represents a misspent youth without the proper Montreal emphasis on outdoor sports!
The aforementioned instruments include a bass viol. This piece of orchestral equipment; part of the ‘de gamba’ family, might be considered as either a bulimic cello, or else a viola – on steroids. As played by Katherine Hill, its pleasant sound and easy range are a delight to these ears that find over-clapping or finger-whistling eardrum painful. Her soprano readings especially ‘When daisies pied’, from Willy’s alliterative L-cubed comedy, was especially enchanting. It’s pronounced pie-d, not ‘peed’ and refers to multi-color splits.
Back to my Montreal growing-up era, I can remember the Hurdy-Gurdy players with their pets, cap-in-hand soliciting contributions. The instruments were barrel-type, but Ben Grossman‘s instrument is the real thing. Convoluted – definitely with a board pushing on tangents and the requisite crank. Fascinating to see, read about and imaginative to play. Grossman makes it almost sound bagpipe-ish. When he and Terry McKenna’s lute perform in duet, the sound blends faultlessly.
The melodies are mostly carried by Alison Melville whose recorders, chanters, and a flute-like instrument are all played with exceptional breathe control and dexterity. Having attempted to learn the chalil, I can appreciate the difficulty and challenge. Soprano Michele DeBoer possesses a clear enunciation and a more than just pleasant singing voice. The same can be said for Paul Jenkins sweet tenor whose singing demeanour is almost delicate. He’s also a talented harpsichordist. Completing the team, John Pepper is the bass voice.
The Church of St. John is Gothic with soaring ceiling and the requisite bum-numbing wooden pews. Acoustically, sound slightly reverberates adding a serif-echo which made the preamble discourse and much of the lyrics somewhat difficult t discern. But overall, this was more than just a concert…it was an experience!