This album of folksongs from the British Isles (and many transported to the shores of America) is an enchanting experience. One might question whether a bass with the resonant, almost overpowering voice of Joel Frederiksen can put these beauties across with the requisite delicacy and persuasive nuance that they need, but he is a master of the subtle art of vocal story rendition, and is able to keep his voice in check and at the service of the music. After spending most of my time in this repertory with the likes of Emma Kirkby and Custer LaRue, I was somewhat hesitant when I popped this disc in, but I needn’t have feared; these folks play this music with not only stylistic consistency and admirably facile technique, but with a high degree of affection and obvious love.
There will be few tracks on this recording that will be unfamiliar, so ingrained are many of these tunes in our pre-Colonial inheritance, at least for most American classical enthusiasts. So this album is somewhat of a “greatest hits” for this kind of music. And to add to the excitement, we have two of the members of the Ensemble Phoenix Munich, Timothy Leigh Evans and Sven Schwannberger, singing tenor and counter-tenor respectively on a number of the items. Right now I am listening to track 6,the famous Lord Darly, a monstrous 16- stanza song of nine lines each, done with a verve and carefully scored exuberance that allows the music to build and build with all sorts of colorful instrumental additions. Speaking of which, this delightful and skilled ensemble uses various percussion, viola da gamba, flutes, theorbo, lute, and colachon (a bass lute). And they get a chance to show off with some strategically placed instrumental pieces.
Fredericksen accompanies himself on the lute many times on this disc, and makes the words his own in some very affecting storytelling, often of a rather risqué nature. HM seems to be on somewhat of a roll right now, and their sparkling sound only adds to the joy of hearing this disc. This is not a nondescript, bland Renaissance album, but a lively, apropos, and somewhat Shakespearian foray into the best music of its day that surely graced fine homes and taverns alike. The bass/lutenist got his degrees in the US, and has spent much time with the Boston Camerata and the Waverly Consort, self-recommending in itself for those in the know. This is engaging, involved listening, and you simply can’t go wrong with it.—Steven Ritter