Listening to the Baltimore Consort’s CD The Food of Love (Sono Luminus DSL-92234) made me feel musically deprived by the absence of any similarly accomplished ensemble dedicated to Early Music near our vicinity.

The consolation comes for me by listening to The Food of Love, a treasure trove of Elizabethan music performed by six superb specialists on an array of exotic instruments that include treble and bass viols, cittern, recorders, crumhorn, fifes, and bagpipes, in addition to the more familiar lute and flute.

The players are Mary Anne Ballard, Mark Cudek, Larry Lipkis, Ronn McFarlane. Mindy Rosenfeld, and soprano Danielle Svonavec. All six of these artists brilliantly bring to life the music of several contemporaries of Shakespeare, notably Thomas Morley, Richard Edwards, Robert Jones, Robert Johnson, attached to Shakespeare’s The King’s Men as composer in residence,  Anthony Holborne, and John Dowland.

The music is richly varied, with a number of familiar tunes revisited: It was a Lover and his Lass… O Mistress Mine… Bonny Sweet Robin… Greensleeves…Where the Bee Sucks…Willow Song… The less familiar but eminently accessible includes among other lively instrumentals: Heart’s Ease… The Buffens… and Kemp’s Jig, the tune that actor Will Kemp famously and uninterruptedly danced to for one hundred miles between London and Norwich.

Here’s a short sampler of the Baltimore Consort’s music-making: Tarleton’s Jig

Melancholy turns abound as in My Lady Carey’s Dompe, a charmer that hints in 1525 at the early arrival of the Baroque over half a century away.

Then one encounters early examples of incidental music such as the haunting Fortune my Foe that Shakespeare must have used to underpin key moments in his tragedies and comedies, in addition to the familiarly ubiquitous dance interludes and songs.

The presence of bouncy syncopation in Hollborne’s 1599 instrumental dance Fairie Rownde is both amusing and nothing short of surprising, belying the false conceit that much Elizabethan music is all laidback sameness. Far from it, this gem of an album played with Historical Performance accuracy and 21st century pizzazz is a revealing and often toe-tapping thing to treasure.

Kudos to Mark Cudek and Larry Lipkis for the scholarly and insightful booklet notes. The engineering by Daniel Shores and the producing by Dan Merceruio help place the Sono Luminus release of the Baltimore Consort’s CD The Food of Love at the very top of my list of 2019 favorites.

Rafael de Acha