New York Times October 11, 2004
By JAMES R. 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.
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
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
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.
Early Music America vol. 11, No. 3, Fall, 2005
By BEN DUNHAM
...Winners of EMA's Unicorn Prize for Medieval and Renaissance Music, the duo Asteria (Sylvia Rhyne, soprano, and Eric Redlinger, tenor and lute) presented 'Flower of Passion, Thorn of Despair,' a beautifully enacted program of songs about 'chivalry and courtly love in the waning Middle Ages.' In music by Dufay, Binchois, Morton, and others, the performers wove a web of musical magic in the Lindsey Chapel of Emmanuel Church...
The Columbus Dispatch September 25, 2005
By JENNIFER HAMBRICK
The 26 th season of Early Music in Columbus began Friday with the refined sounds of Renaissance Europe.
Award-winning early-music vocal duo Asteria’s performances of 15 thcentury Burgundian chansons transformed the Pontifical College Josephinum’s St. Turibius Chapel into the private chamber of a French chateau.
This is no small feat. The vaulted arches of St. Turibius Chapel call to mind the cavernous Gothic cathedrals of the high Middle Ages and have acoustics to match. The gentle voices of soprano Sylvia Rhyne and tenor and lutenist Eric Redlinger could have been engulfed by the ample reverberance.
But with the gentleness of their sound, as well as their ever-changing positions onstage, the musicians invited the audience into their intimate space to experience tender, courtly love poetry confessed in song and, between musical numbers, read from a heartshaped, velvet-covered book.
Rhyne’s voice never lost its depth of sound or exquisite control. Redlinger provided a chivalrous shadow throughout, often in a slightly less focused sound than Rhyne’s and always deferring to her in their vocal balance.
Redlinger’s lute accompaniment was the barest palimpsest beneath it all. Though beautiful, the lute sound’s modesty at times almost entirely suppressed the third voice of the threevoice contrapuntal texture.
The performance was replete with moments of superb artistry. The ending of Asteria’s performance of Estienne Grossin’s Va T’ent Souspir floated to the heavens. In Robert Morton’s Vive Ma Dame, Rhyne and Redlinger brought out the song’s counterpoint without threatening the direction of the musical line.
Rhyne’s solo performance of Deuil Angoisseux, Gilles Binchois’ setting of poet Christine de Pizan’s lament for her husband, was a model of controlled anguish calling to mind the famed laments of widows Ariadne and Dido.
The duo’s encore presentation of Claudin de Sermisy’s Languir Me Fait ended the concert in a lovely whisper.
Early Music America vol. 11, No. 4, Winter, 2005
By DEBORAH LAWRENCE
Le Souvenir de Vous me Tue /
Medieval Chansons from the
Court of Philip the Good /
Asteria (Sylvia Rhyne, soprano,
Eric Redlinger, tenor, lute) /
Asteria AMCD 0404
In this graceful disc, the duo Asteria, winners of EMA's 2004 Medieval/Renaissance Performance Competition, invite the listener to imagine the musical world of Burgundy, concentrating on works that were associated with the court of Philip the Good (1396-1467).
Ths Burgundian chanson of the 15th century generally featured refined poetry celebrating the ideal of courtly love cast in a delicate, three-part melodic fabric with one prominent, exquisite tune. There is perhaps no more beautiful example than "Adieu Ces Bon Vins De Lannoys" by Guillaume Dufay (c.1400-1474), especially in Asteria's sweet and heartfelt rendition.
Throughout, the blend of Sylvia Rhyne's soprano and Eric Redlinger's tenor with lute is both crystal clear and warm, but the solo works create an even more intimate feeling. For Gilles Binchois's "Pour Prison," solo voice and lute lend directness to the poetry. "Dona Gentile" by Dufay, is heard as a lute solo, pulling the audience in even closer.
In addition to the French music, Asteria includes a tiny Spanish gem by Juan Vasqauez (c.1500-1560) and a folksong-like German work. As attractive as the better-known French repertoire, these songs refresh with their more casual structure. Rhyne and Redlinger bring out the beauty of this repertoire with warmth and grace and make it very alive indeed.
The Lute Society of America Winter, 2005
By JIM STIMSON
Le Souvenir de Vous me Tue /
Medieval Chansons from the
Court of Philip the Good /
Asteria (Sylvia Rhyne, soprano,
Eric Redlinger, tenor, lute) /
Asteria AMCD 0404
The concept behind Asteria is so elegantly simple it's a wonder no one else is doing it: a soprano and a tenor who also plays lute. This enables two players to perform a vast amount of material, including virtually the entire 15th-century Burgundian chanson repertoire, the focus of this recording.
Eric Redlinger plays the lute finger-style, using five and seven course instruments made by Cezar Mateus. This allows him to play both tenor and bass parts on the lute, or occasionally take the melody in a polyphonic arrangement. His gentle, slightly reedy tenor voice provides a supple backing for Rhyne's elegant soprano. His lute tone has enough edge to cut through the texture and balance with the voices.
The opening track, "Quant La Doulce Jouvencelle," from the celebrated Canonici 213 manuscript, shows off the duo's abilities, with lute and soprano; lute, soprano and tenor; and lute alone taking turns. This chanson, from the same massive tome that includes many pieces by Dufay and Binchois, is anonymous but is in much the same vein as those two masters, with graceful melody enlivened by angular rhythms in an open, transparent texture.
The title track, "Le Souvenir de Vous" by Robert Morton, begins as a lute solo before the chanson proper. The leisurely pace and gentle, unforced performance suits both the music and the ensemble well.
As appealing as this disc is, I came away wanting more. Binchois, seemingly the perfect composer for the duo and an
exemplar of the Burgundian chanson tradition, is only heard once, on "Pour Prison." Dufay, the leading composer of the 15th century, is a little better served with three chansons, but one is a lute solo and the others are perhaps the most-often performed of his 90-odd chansons: "Se la Face ay Pale" and "Adieu Ces Bons Vins." With a total time of just 37:43, it seems the addition of several more chansons by these masters, or more of the many fine anonymous works from the repertoire, would have rounded out the disc nicely.
San Francisco Classical Voice June, 2006
By KANEEZ MUNJEE
Many people seemed to observe that this year's Berkeley Festival and Exhibition was somewhat smaller in scale than previous years' festivals had been, and that audiences too were smaller than in years past. Yet the festival's offerings were met with great enthusiasm, and the conversations I overheard while walking from concert to concert unvaryingly described delightful and transcendent experiences.
The duo Asteria - Sylvia Rhyne, soprano; Eric Redlinger, lute and tenor - captivated their audience on the evening of June 9 at Hertz Hall with a program of largely Burgundian chansons, with a few sacred and English pieces offered, as well. Asteria was largely unknown before winning Early Music America's medieval/Renaissance music competition in 2004, but from the audience's reception on Friday, it is unlikely that they will remain unknown for long.
The duo Asteria
The two performers offer different strengths: Rhyne has had an international career in musical theater, and she uses her acting abilities to bring the texts to life. Her voice is beautifully nuanced and works well for this repertoire. Redlinger has a soft and gentle voice, supportive but not obtrusive. His lute playing is delicately finessed, and his knowledge of the period and repertoire immense, as he showed when he spoke about their encore piece, Languir me fais by Sermisy. Together, Rhyne and Redlinger give a sensitive and heartfelt rendering of these chansons, connecting intimately with each other and with the audience, using pianos for dramatic effect, and varying their "instrumentation" so that some pieces have lute introductions and some have only one singer.
Their program offered many wonderful songs, including an anonymous piece in three languages, Novo Profusi Gaudio, Tant est mignonne by Dufay, Pour prison and Seule esgarée by Binchois, and Morton's Le souvenir de vous me tue. Asteria singled out one of the pieces for its text: Dueil angoisseux by Binchois, to a poem by Christine de Pisan, written after the early death of her husband, to whom she was clearly devoted. This was an exception to the prevailing texts, which all celebrated the Lady or the Virgin, both of which were the standard tropes of the day. At the end, after their encore, they invited Shira Kammen to join them on one final piece, citing her profound influence on them and celebrating the rich repertoire of the medieval period. (K.M.)
Journal de Saone et Loire April 21, 2007
Sylvia Rhyne et Eric Redlinger, primés en musique du Moyen-Age aux Etats Unis, ont offert un concert intimiste, presque religieux dans une salle du chateau de Germolles, devant la cheminée monumentale.
Le public a peu auparavant, guidé par les maitres des lieux, Christian et Matthieu, pu s'imprégner de l'atmosphere des salles du chateau dans lesquelles la musique était jouée au Moyen-Age. Germolles est la seule demeure encore debout des Ducs de Bourgogne et la musique d'Asteria ne pouvait trouver la meilleur endroit pour résonner et réveiller la vie du chateau au temps des duchesses et des chevaliers.
Veritable récital d'amour, de gestuelle et d'expressions corporelle, la presentation de Sylvia et Eric vous prend "aux tripes" et vous conduit dans un monde d'émotions fortes, de peines et de joies, en osmose avec le public. Meme si les paroles restent incompréhensibles au quidam, les émotions font le reve, premettent de deviner et de partager. L'incomparable Sylvia Rhyne, soprano (expérimentée en opera, opérettes et comédies musicales à† Broadway), véritable interprà®te, presque comédienne, a subjugué le public tandis qu'Eric Redlinger, le beau ténor chevalier, accompagnait sa belle avec son luth.
Page d'amour, d'histoire, de vie, le récital a fait découvrir une conception nouvelle de la musique de Moyen-Age, plus ouverte sur le monde, modernisée, mais gardant toute ses racines et son identité.
Sylvia et Eric s'offrent une belle carriere dans le monde entier ou leur talent est reconnu. Ils ont déja enregistré deux CD et un troisieme est en gestation.
Asteria (nom du duo) donnera deux concerts en Cote d'Or, à† l'Abbaye des Chartreux le 23 Juin et à† l'Abbaye de Fontenay le 4 Aout. Les concerts sont exceptionels car le duo est "de passage" en France.
San Francisco Classical Voice Jan 12, 2008
By MICHELLE DULAK THOMSON
One of the pleasures of working in the field of early music - really early music, that is, music from well outside the ordinary classical musician's realm of experience - must be the sense of having found a corner of the repertoire and built a relationship to it, minutely and intimately and genuinely from scratch. Dedicate yourself to knowing and loving Bach or Haydn or Brahms, and you are to some extent only taking a great common love a little farther than most, building on an appreciation that comes easily to many.
Getting on the same intimate terms with, say, Ciconia or Dunstable or Ockeghem is another matter, and a much trickier one. But do it well - come to feel as much at home in the 14th or 15th century as most of SFCV's readership likely is in the 18th or 19th - and you come to be the medium through which the rest of us can approach music we'd otherwise neither encounter nor understand.
So although Asteria, which opened Seventh Avenue Performances' 2008 season with a recital Saturday night, has by conventional standards a quite narrow repertory, the atmosphere of its compact gem of a concert was anything but straitened. The duo - soprano Sylvia Rhyne and tenor and lutenist Eric Redlinger - drew the entire program from the Burgundian chanson repertoire dating roughly between 1420 and 1470.
The same little cache of music seems to be Asteria's sole province, judging by the contents of its two published CDs (which between them cover virtually all the music heard Saturday) and its concert programs (listen online). But, graced with singing and playing as loving and understanding as this, theirs seemed not a cramped musical corner but generously spacious, too full of delights for such a short visit to encompass.
How to go about performing this cc is even now an open question, at least in the sense that no one solution has gained overwhelming sway. If you have a piece in three or four contrapuntal parts, not all of which necessarily have the text fitted to them, where (if anywhere) do you use instruments, where voices? Asteria, with two voices and a lute at its disposal, generally gives the cantus and tenor lines - the two strands that form the contrapuntal framework for the others - to the voices, and everything left over to the lute.
It's an arrangement that does make the counterpoint harder to hear. Partly because the played lines aren't sustained, partly because the timbres call up memories of (centuries-later) lute-accompanied song, the ear tends to perceive the plucked parts as harmonic "accompaniment" rather than melodic lines in their own right. Rhyne's voice, too, is somewhat more penetrating and her singing more emotionally demonstrative than Redlinger's. I caught myself wondering once or twice whether some of the performances' extraordinary appeal couldn't be chalked up to the way they quietly assimilated the unfamiliar 15th-century idiom to more comfortable ideas of melody and harmony, tune and accompaniment.
A Range of Emotional Communication
For the appeal was extraordinary. Asteria's performances had an uncanny quality of emotional immediacy and intimacy, a tone difficult to catch. Part of it was the plangent gentleness of the singing and playing. Part was theatrics, so subtly managed as to seem the reverse of theatrical. Rhyne and Redlinger varied their positions from number to number. Sometimes she sat and he played and sang as to her; sometimes they stood close side by side, her hand on his waist, singing as though to each other.
Like the touches of "earlie musicke" stage-setting - the candlelight, Rhyne's floor-length burgundy velvet gown and heavy necklace, the copy of the Chansonnier Cordiforme that she picked up as though to read or sing from occasionally - the changes of posture sketched a context for the music without bludgeoning us with it.
On a technical level the performances were near-flawless. Rhyne did have a slight tendency to drift sharp. It showed up most often when she was left relatively to herself, as in the two chansons where the duo sang a cappella, or in Binchois' Deuil angoisseux (Anguished grief), which she sang by herself to the lute. Otherwise both the suave singing and Redliger's deft, delicate lute playing were delightful considered as sounds, and many times more so as they wrapped themselves around these disarmingly graceful but intricate little songs.
Greater depths were plumbed, too. The audience was given only "synopses" of the texts (translations of the opening lines, generally), which was a shame in music so subtly wrought from poetry, but for one chanson Rhyne went into some detail about the poem and its author. This was the aforementioned Dueil angoisseux, to words of Christine de Pisan, a woman widowed early in motherhood who wrote professionally to support herself after her husband's death.
Into Binchois' setting of her maddened lament Rhyne poured palpable, heartbreaking anguish. Once, midphrase, she broke off suddenly, to stunned silence from the audience, only to begin again, falteringly and faintly, with the uncertain accompaniment of Redlinger's lute. (A video is available of an Asteria performance of Dueil angoisseux here; it is a more contained performance than Saturday's, but still gives some idea of the spell it wove.)
Inside an Ancient Landscape
For the rest, the recurring marvel for me was the easy fluency of the performances, a fluency that never strayed into flippancy. Rhyne and Redlinger seemed entirely comfortable in the music, inhabiting a style rather than straining to portray one. (They effortlessly passed my personal acid test for early-music "stylishness" - "Can these people ornament a line without sounding like they're working at it?") How close to the performance-practice state of the art their manner comes I don't know, but anyone who can convey the inside of a musical world so unfamiliar and yet so lovely as theirs is doing something right.
The one encore was Claudin de Sermisy's Languir me fais. Right out of the period, that one, as Redlinger explained (it dates from the 1520s, some 50 years after anything in the printed program), but utterly exquisite. If Asteria should ever tire of the 15th century, it knows where to go next.
Michelle Dulak Thomson is a violinist and violist who has written about music for Strings, Stagebill, Early Music America, and The New York Times.
BOMBSite March 2, 2009
By DAVID VARNO
About a week after Valentine's Day, I found myself on a barge under the Brooklyn Bridge where a pair of early music revivalists were set up in a perfectly amorous display. A woman wore a long red velvet dress and sat at a table with a single rose and a goblet, and she held a heart-shaped manuscript to her chest. Her partner stood at her back with a lute and plucked a simple tune as she began to sing. The strange beauty of their sound, at once transportive to a much different time and place, chastened my fear of gimmicks as they engaged in a musical dialogue of courtly love.
The performers were Eric Redlinger and Sylvia Rhyne, appearing under the name Asteria. As they explained between the songs, they were drawing from a period in the early 15th Century, at the end of the Ars Nova movement, before the Renaissance came to France. This generation of Burgundian composers has left a largely anonymous and relatively obscure body of Franco-Flemish songs, contained in a small set of manuscripts. Asteria excavated the songs from the Ox. Can. Misc 213 manuscript, housed now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. After the second set, Redlinger showed me the heart-shaped album that Rhyne uses, an exquisite facsimile of the manuscript that she created herself. There were notation and lyrics, along with illustrations of the songs' themes of heartache, bliss, rejection, and slander, and Redlinger explained that the separate lines of music were intended for counterpoint, and that any harmony that occurred was purely incidental. The two made their own translations, occasionally adding or repeating lines to maintain the syllabic structure and rhyme scheme of the poems, most of which were 12-line rondeaux. They're sung in the original language, but English synopses were made available with the program.
After the first song, Redlinger mentioned that it was the first time they had played on a barge (the venue, Barge Music, is docked at the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn), and that in fact this was playing a part in the royal courts' tradition, because often the courts would travel by barge along the rivers, accommodated with complete entertainment. As he said this, the bow, pointed across the water towards the Woolworth Building, made a significant climb in the changing tide, and our chairs slid ever so slightly on the hardwood floor. Occasionally, their act included a bit of dramatic flair, to highlight what Redlinger described as the "exquisite pain" of courtly love. Rhyne, who has starred on stage it turns out as Christine in Phantom of the Opera, rose to join him and his falsetto dropped to tenor as he moved up on the lute and her voice grew higher. When it was over they embraced. A later song, Pour mesdisans, which centers on the line "Neither for slanderers nor for their slander shall I not be joyful," rounded out a series on the theme of slander. In the courts, a person's honor was all they had, as Rhyne explained, and they were beholden to the lords, who kept tabs on their reputation. Rhyne sustained a note in uncomfortable tension, a deep, dying plea as she stared hopelessly at the audience, her hands withered at her side, her eyes in disbelief. In that pose, she resembled one of Whistler's mistresses, eviscerated, left out to dry.
The songs are sung contrapuntally, and the use of imitation alludes to the dialogue enclosed in the lyrics. The words come from the knight, but at times he summarizes his conversations with the god of love, to whom he turns for advice, and as he asks the lady for her hand, she'll repeat his question. Redlinger's lute playing followed Ryne's range sensitively, alternating between counterpoint and improvised harmonies that were added to the written music.
For the encore they performed a song from the later renaissance period, and the further degree of polyphony highlighted the simplicity of the songs they had just played.
"I love these songs for their plain beauty," Redlinger said, pointing out that they adhere clearly to the text, while the lushness of the renaissance songs distract from the words, and the beauty becomes more sublime.
The Burgundian love songs' textual roots are in the French Troubador poets, who preached the value of courtly love as the central raison d'Ítre and the chief subject of artistic expression, and while their heirs would probably claim the same roots, even going back further to the Arabian Troubadors of the 9th Century, it was particularly interesting to hear these songs for their words, in the midst of a revolutionary musical crossroads.
Early Music America vol. 15, No. 4, Winter, 2009
By KAREN COOK
Un Tres Doulx Regard /
Asteria (Sylvia Rhyne, soprano,
Eric Redlinger, tenor, lute) /
Asteria AMCD 0309
"Just like the shy young lover who is knocked off his feet by the object of his affections, the music of the first generation of Burgundian composers at the end of the ars nova is infused with the sweetness and explosive passion of new love."
On this disc, tenor-lutenist Eric Redlinger is cast in the role of the shy young lover courting soprano Sylvia Rhyne and while explosive passion may not be entirely accurate, infused with sweetness the result surely is.
Like Asteria's other recordings, "Un tres doulx regard" focuses on the music of the French and Burgundian fifteenth century. In this case, selecting the entirety of its repertory from the manuscript Oxford, Canonici misc. 213. It bears repeating that this manuscript is one of the principle sources for the chansons of Dufay and Binchois, but while three of their works are found here, the rest of the recording is devoted to lesser-known composers, as well as anonymous repertory.
That fact alone makes this disc a worthy addition to any library and a particularly valuable asset to those of us who study the music from this time period. However, Asteria gives us much more than a mere study tool. Sylvia Rhyne's soprano is at once warm and richly inviting, supple enough to make the trickier or more syncopated rhythms seem effortless, and sensitive enough to shade each phrase with just the right touch of restrained emotion, such as on the anonymous "Pour medisans ne pour leur faux parler." Although (or perhaps because?) she has performed in a number of different styles on the stage, her voice is well suited to this repertory.
A lovely contrast to Rhyne is found in the quieter, more straight-toned tenor of Eric Redlinger. He also approaches both the music and the text with a great deal of sensitivity, shadowing her voice in the imitative sections, but never encroaching too much on the prominence of her melodic line. His lute playing matches his singing – quiet, subtle, and precise while accompanying, but quite delightful in its own right, providing a nice contrast to the vocal parts on the three featured instrumental pieces. The "Amour venes mon cuer reconforter" is particularly attractive; it begins with a fairly bare-bones approach, sedate and simple, but then, in a flurry of graceful ornaments, it picks up in tempo and in volume before dramatically slowing down for a final presentation of the melody, offered almost as an afterthought.
Even without benefit of sight, this listener felt as though she had intruded upon an intimate moment between these two. The contrast in their voices makes it feel as though Redlinger is singing to Rhyne, wooing her with music, and the rest of us have the sheer fortune to stumble upon them. All in all, these works are beautifully performed, both individually and as an album.