Review: Circe’s Consort concert kicks off chamber season at Willow Hall in Morristown

Circe's Consort

ANNALISA EWALD

Circe’s Consort, a dynamic duo of baroque guitarist Annalisa Ewald and baroque single and double row harpist Richard Spendio, performed the opening concert for Willow Hall of Morristown’s Sunday afternoon chamber concert season, Sept. 12.

The compelling repertoire included Italian, Spanish and English pieces from the 1500s and 1600s such as Ruggiero Paradetas, Españoletas, Marionas and Buelta Folias by Luz Y Norte; the Pezzo Tedescho and Dove Son Quei Fieri Occhi, both early anonymous compositions; the Io Vorrei Pur Fuggir by Francesco Corteccia; Correnta by Cesare Negri; and the 17th century English air, Daphne.

How often does the public get the chance to hear late Renaissance and early Baroque music? Hardly ever — which made the concert an even more special treat. The late Renaissance into the early-modern time period was an exciting one with much musical experimentation and innovation including the Italian theorbo, an instrument designed to provide extra bass notes and continuous bass for the melodic lines, and used in the then newly developed style of opera of the Florentine Camerata. The well-chosen pieces for the concert highlighted lyricism, driving rhythms, melodies and vibrancy, transporting one back to the time period.

Ewald’s technical mastery of these period works is impressive — the result of decades of study, teaching and performance. A seasoned performer and teacher as well, Spendio executes with the sensitivity and acumen demanded of these refined harps, especially the “new” (built in 1581) double harp. Both musicians are focused on bringing this type of music to the public and provided brief educational narrations before each work, enabling listeners to better understand the piece.

Especially exciting were the Españoletas and the driving arpeggios of Buelta Folias. Audience reception was enthusiastic.

RICHARD SPENDIO

This type of chamber music worked very well in the dining room at Willow Hall, an intimate setting in which the concertgoer becomes completely immersed in the intensity and immediacy of the music. One could close one’s eyes and create an absolutely visceral experience.

The historic Willow Hall on Speedwell Avenue in Morristown, built by local businessman, politician and judge George Vail in the early 1800s, is now owned by the Passaic River Coalition, which is using its beautiful interior space to host a five-concert chamber music series for this 2021-2022 season. The Passaic River Coalition are dedicated guardians and stewards of the Passaic River and its watershed.

We look forward to the upcoming season, which will highlight light indoor musical fare including a hammer dulcimer concert by Carol Walker, Nov. 14; a Robert Burns Scottish concert in January; a Celtic program in March; and German and Italian art songs in May.

For more on the concert series, visit morristourism.org/venue/willow-hall.

For more on Circe’s Consort, visit annalisaewald.com/circe-s-consort.

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