337 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
A More Subtle Art
The 14th Century Avant-Garde
Blue Heron & Les Délices:
Martin Near & Jason McStoots, voices
Scott Metcalfe, medieval fiddle & harp
Debra Nagy, recorders, douçaine, harp & voice
This excellent program was recently performed to sold-out audiences in Ohio, where a reviewer found it “fascinating.” It is an unusual concert of intricate medieval songs by Guillaume de Machaut (d. 1377) and his followers, accompanied by early reed instruments, recorders, fiddle, and Gothic harp. Machaut was the leading French poet and composer in the “calamitous fourteenth century” so well described in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror— a time of incessant war and the Black Plague, when about half the population of Europe perished. Music was a respite, a solace and delight. These songs combine the sheer beauty of sound with ingenious structures of a philosophical nature. The poetry touches on themes of courtly love, “the birds and the bees,” mortal life and eternity.
The vocal ensemble Blue Heron, “one of the Boston music community’s indispensables,” combines vivid performance with the study of original sources from about 1400 to 1600. Here they delve even further into the past and join with instrumentalists from Cleveland’s Les Délices, a thriving ensemble. The two fine singers are well-known in the Boston area. Martin Near, countertenor, has the vocal agility to deliver explosions of melodic fantasy with utter finesse, while Jason McStoots, tenor, is renowned for his comic roles, always full of character. The two instrumentalists are the distinguished directors of Blue Heron and Les Délices, Scott Metcalfe and Debra Nagy, both of them adept at many different instruments. The Gothic harp is a special treat on the program, as well as the early reed instrument, the douçaine, of which Ms. Nagy is a complete master with superb expressive powers.