by James Oestreich
Apples against oranges wasn’t the half of it. It was soprano against tenor, sackbut against hurdy-gurdy, 13th century against 16th century, and German repertory against Guatemalan in a performance competition sponsored by the service organization Early Music America at Corpus Christi Church on Wednesday as part of the first New York Early Music Celebration, just ended.
Could the judges find any basis for comparison among the six contending groups, with their wildly varied combinations of instruments, or for that matter, among the three excellent sopranos variously presented in Spanish, Italian and French song? After brief deliberation, the judges opted for simplicity, choosing the same performers that the audience had acclaimed on the spot: Asteria, a duo of Sylvia Rhyne, soprano, and Eric Redlinger, tenor and lutenist.
Ms. Rhyne and Mr. Redlinger put across not only their music, Burgundian songs from the mid-15th century, but also a style of performance, intimate and deeply communicative. They sang these songs of love and loss as if to each other, yet drew a listener in completely, sealing the process with a meltingly beautiful rendition of Claudin de Sermisy’s “Languir Me Fais.”
For their efforts, they were awarded $5,000 and an appearance at the Boston Early Music Festival next spring, and that was as it should be. But you have to hope that festival representatives were on hand to recruit the other spirited and gifted performers as well, especially the sopranos Jennifer Ellis and Elizabeth Ronan-Silva, each winning in their divergent repertories and styles.