The English lutenist Elizabeth Kenny devises unusual programs with her group Theatre of the Ayre, and this is one of the best. Kenny examines the masque itself, the imperfectly understood English court entertainment of Italian origin, that encompassed song, dance, theater, and even distinctive stage and costume design. It's difficult to capture on a CD (really a full-scale re-creation would be the way to go, if an organization with the magic combination of funding and inspiration could be found), but Kenny does her damndest. The Masque of Moments is, as the title suggests, a kind of masque compilation, a collection of pieces that did or might have been used in masques, and the main thing Kenny is after is to show what a varied entertainment it was, including drinking genres not usually connoted by the word "courtly;" polyphonic pieces that gain greatly from being placed in context and not in a rarefied realm of abstract music; lovely little anonymous instrumental pieces (such as Robin, track 15); the latest Italian innovations from the likes of Alfonso Ferrabosco; and English theatrical songs. Among these you might sample Giovanni Coperario's While dancing rests (track 4). Coperario (or Coprario) was born simply John Cooper but, like Stokowski, restyled himself with a more exotic brand. Here you get a taste of the clean style of Kenny and her group, always clear and attractive even if you might wish for a bit more zip in the dances and more down-to-earth songs. You get superb engineering from Linn and an informative booklet to boot. Recommended for anyone who has ever heard the term "masque" and been curious about what it sounded like.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
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