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Watkins Ale: Music of the English Renaissance

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 22, 1992
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Editorial Reviews

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If you think people didn't have much fun in the 16th century, you may change your mind after you hear the kind of music the ordinary folks were singing, playing, and listening to. The Baltimore Consort, internationally recognized for its outstanding programs and performances of early music, offer us an immediately appealing--and irresistible--assortment of popular tunes from 16th-century England, some of which you may recognize in their modern incarnations. "There were three ravens," "Greensleeves," and John Dowland's famous "Lachrimae Pavan" are a few of the better-known pieces. The Baltimore Consort is known not only for its fabulous musicianship but also for its arrangements, which always seem to perfectly suit the tunes; this disc comprises 20 examples of that virtuosity, and you'll want to hear them again and again. --David Vernier
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Product Details

  • Performer: The Baltimore Consort
  • Composer: Richard Alison, William Byrd, John Dowland, Jean d' Estree, John Johnson, et al.
  • Audio CD (May 22, 1992)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Alliance
  • ASIN: B000001Q8Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,670 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
A few years ago I had the privilege of seeing the Baltimore Consort perform live. It was an electrifying evening filled with great energy and sound. This CD manages to capture that. It is an excellent recording that definitely does justice to the material.
In addition, the selection of song is varied and allows a lot of the period specific instruments to demonstrate what kind of sound they can make.
Also, I always consider it a bonus when the lyrics to the songs are included. I think its even better (and rarer) when that happens with early Renaissance music. In this case, the CD not only come with the lyrics in English, but in German and French as well.
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Format: Audio CD
I have already noted my fondness for The Baltimore Consort, and Custer LaRue in particular, elsewhere...but I still feel compelled to praise this album--"Watkins Ale." It is awesome. "Watkins Ale" is, like most of The Consort's recordings, pure artistic joy-bottled and caught up on a compact disc. LaRue's singing, and the playing of the rest of the crew, is absolutely stunning. "There Were Three Ravens" is a deep, beautifully dark, introspective masterpiece. Some of the instrumentals are worth the price of the disc by themselves. The rendition of Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan is--like the rest of the disc--sheer brilliance! If I've put too many commas in my review, it is because I lack the proper superlatives for the task at hand...I recommend this CD most highly.
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Format: Audio CD
The Baltimore Consort are performers in the truest sense -- the energy and sheer brilliance they exude during performances is infectious and heady. Luckily for those of us who rarely or never get to see them perform, all of this comes across in their recordings. This CD makes both an excellent introduction for those uninitiated in the joy that is English Renaissance music, and an important addition to the library of anyone already familiar with such music. The emotion, grace and at times sheer bawdiness of the Baltimore Consort's performances will entertain you and make you smile with glee; "Watkins Ale" is *not* just some sort of alcohol proffered to a young maiden by a strapping young lad -- it may take some careful listening and thinking about the text to realize this! Custer LaRue's flawless vocals, here sounding like a young woman and there like a young lad, are breathtaking. Check your pulse if you don't find yourself dancing along.
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Format: Audio CD
Taking its title from one of the most famous of all Elizabethan ballads, this recording showcases a representative selection of pieces for the renowned 'broken consort' which was popular in England at the turn of the 17th century. The Baltimore Consort's playing is generally of a high standard, and there are some attractive moments: Ronn McFarlane's lute playing is outstanding, as ever, and there are notable solo contributions from Webb Wiggins (on virginals [track 10]), Mark Cudek (on cittern [track 18]) and Howard Bass (on bandora, an instrument rarely heard in its own right [tracks 13 and 14]). The ensemble is joined in 3 pieces by soprano Custer LaRue (tracks 4, 9 and 20), whose pure vocal timbre seems ideally suited to the simplicity of the ballads.

However, from a purely musicological perspective, several aspects of this recording are implausible and whilst this may well be of little concern to some, such liberties will certainly be disturbing for more discerning listeners. Why, for example, use flutes in C and E-flat (?= a flute in D in 466Hz?), and worse still, a piccolo (as out of place in Elizabethan music as a fortepiano or a classical cello)...? Similarly, the flute's alternation between written pitch and sounding an octave higher within the same piece (e.g. track 6) is very strange, and it serves no obvious musical purpose. Even more dubious is the addition of a keyboard instrument (virginals/muselar) to the consort.
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Format: Audio CD
The Baltimore Consort will ever be one of my favorite Renaissance recording artists. Nearly everything they have recorded is worth listening to. They combine superb musicianship with period instruments -- the only way to listen to and appreciate this style of music. In "Watkins Ale," the Baltimore Consort plays dance music from the Elizabethan era. Most of the tunes, therefore, are quite upbeat. I have caught myself wanting to dance jigs (OK, OK, so I actually DID dance to this music)while listening! The "low point" for me on this album (only because it's a bit slower) is the classic ballad "There Were Three Ravens." And yet Custer LaRue's exquisite soprano voice -- unpretentious, sonorous, melodic -- certainly will not make you shut the recording off by any stretch of the imagination. I like "Unto the Prophet Jonas I Read," which is a charming musical retelling of the Jonah and the Whale story (again with LaRue's lovely soprano), and which likely will make you want to sing the chorus with her. I could go on praising the album. I've had it for a couple of years now, and still play it over and over!
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