In performance: Waverly Consort
Waverly Consort's Christmas: festive but threadbare
by Charles T. Downey
The Waverly Consort brought its celebrated holiday concert back to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Wednesday night. At its creation in 1980, “The Christmas Story” was an ingenious bit of programming, fusing a selection of medieval monophony and polyphony into a coherent narrative. It is best heard in the resonant, medieval art-filled acoustic of the Cloisters museum, where a performance in the late 1980s helped convince your reviewer, then an impressionable undergraduate music student, that it was a good idea to go to graduate school and study medieval music.
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Twenty years later, the program seems a little moth-eaten, the pseudo-medieval costumes and fanciful instrumental reconstructions and percussion accompaniments (lots of bells) having become a staple of Renaissance festivals. The music is all based on solid, if now venerable scholarship, but the combination of liturgical drama (Latin plays from Rouen and Fleury) with conductus and motets of the Notre Dame school, all grafted onto the Ordinary of the Mass (in polyphonic settings from France and England), now seems heterogeneous.
The Waverly Consort’s founders, Michael and Kay Jaffee, are still leading the ensemble, bolstered by some younger faces. A particularly fine performance came from Priscilla Smith, playing the shawm on the fast and furious melody of the 14th-century Italian dance piece “Chominciamento di gioia.” The trio of Aaron Larson, Michael Steinberger, and John Shankweiler contributed the most solid and beautiful singing, especially as the three Magi. Countertenor Bruce Rameker was a little wispy in tone as the archangel, and the women, Hai-Ting Chinn and Elaine Lachica, had a better sound blended together as a pair or in the choral pieces than individually.
— Charles T. Downey
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