|Piffaro, The Renaissance Band. Photo by Sharon Torello.|
Devotees of Renaissance music packed the chapel at Christ Church in Greenville Sunday to celebrate the opening of Piffaro’s 30th Anniversary Season, welcome back old friends and memorialize the passing of another.
The internationally acclaimed “Pied Pipers of Early Music” broke out shawms, dulcians, sackbuts, recorders, krumhorns, bagpipes, lutes, guitars, harps and a variety of percussion for a lively and diverse retrospective of their “greatest hits” from one of music’s most cosmopolitan and vibrant periods. (Fans were also invited to curate the program by voting at the ensemble’s website, www.piffaro.org.)
Repertoire spanned 15th Century motets by the Low Countries’ Heinrich Isaac to a chaconne by 17th Century Spaniard Juan Aranes. Other composers featured on the program were Ludwig Senfl, Thomas Weelkes, Nicolas Gombert, Jakob Arcadelt as well as the ubiquitous Anonymous.
The Renaissance set the stage for much of what lay ahead in Western music. Increasingly freed from medieval constraints, music became a vehicle for personal expression and composers found ways to make their music expressive of the texts they were setting.
“La Guerra” by Mateo Flecha is a striking example. Here life’s struggles cast in terms of war and victory are conveyed through constantly changing meters, textures and tonality, all of which were executed to perfection.
Throughout the Renaissance, dance music flowered and thrived and was composed — or more likely improvised — by many people. The Suite of Dances by Tylman Susato is a fine representative of some of the outstanding dance music of the late Renaissance. Piffaro’s joyous playing had toes tapping and heads bobbing to the infectious rhythms, making for a fitting close to the two-hour program.
There were more subdued moments as well, such as harpist Christa Patton and lutist Grant Herreid duetted on the poignant La Rossignol, an Elizabethan piece originally written for two guitars. Patton recalled that the piece was used in the 1970s PBS special on Elizabeth I during the scene when the monarch and her fiancé were to meet in secret in a church to exchange vows but somehow missed each other.
A touch of sadness pervaded the concert as the ensemble remembered their late colleague Tom Zajac who passed away on August 31. The recorders captured the meditative quality of Nicolas Gombert’s Musae jovis to profound effect, balancing shades of mourning with moments of light and serenity. Gombert wrote the majestic requiem as a lament on the death of his teacher, polyphonic master Josquin des Prez.
The concert was also a reunion of sorts, as former ensemble members Adam and Rotem Gilbert (1989-2007), Eric Anderson (1989-1995) and George Hoyt (1996-1999) returned to join the milestone celebration.