American-German bass Joel Frederiksen, one of an impressive parade of American-born early music performers who have moved to Europe in order to realize their talents fully, here takes on repertory that is usually associated with a specific sound -- with an English countertenor, accompanied by a gently brushed lute, aimed at a refined sort of melancholy. It takes a certain kind of drive to think through a whole new interpretation and to sound relaxed delivering it, and Frederiksen succeeds on both counts. For one thing, he's a bass, with a relaxed, sonorously rounded tone. In the matter of accompaniment he directs his Ensemble Phoenix Munich toward rhythmically active interpretations, oriented toward percussion, that reflect the freer approach Jordi Savall has brought to a range of Renaissance repertory but that few have tried with English music. The selections mix semi-popular repertory, some of it quite familiar, with instrumental pieces and a few lute songs by Dowland and Ravenscroft. Two songs are based on the piece Simon & Garfunkel recorded as "Scarborough Fair," and others -- "Barbara Ellen" and "The Lover's Tasks" -- are American in origin, another fresh detail in the program. Frederiksen interprets many of the songs in entirely new ways, none more so than "Greensleeves," which, believe it or not, becomes a sexy, upbeat piece (sample it for yourself on track 3). Full texts are provided, and are translated into German and French, but Anglophones will hardly need the printed texts; Frederiksen articulates everything clearly, and he communicates what he is singing. This whole new approach to the popular and cultivated ballads of Renaissance Britain is recommended for everyone from early music devotees to listeners who've ever wondered where "Scarborough Fair" came from.
The Elfin Knight: Ballads and Dances Review
by James Manheim