by Michael Caruso
Rounding out the old year, Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, presented “Drive the Cold Winter Away” Saturday, Dec. 28, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The concert, which drew an audience that was noteworthy for its size and enthusiasm, offered an impressive survey of late Renaissance music intended to give cheer to those enduring the darkness of the winter solstice. Including music both sacred and secular — as well as Christian, Jewish and nature-oriented — the program testified to Piffaro’s abiding ability to entertain and educate simultaneously.
With several regulars performing on Broadway in productions of a pair of Shakespeare plays throughout most of the concert season, core members Grant Herreid, Joan Kimball, Robert Wiemkin and Tom Zajac were joined by soprano Laura Heimes, recorder player Gwyn Roberts (co-founder and director of Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra), sackbut player Adam Bregman and cornetto player Kiri Tollaksen. This time around, the ensemble worked together as a unit whose parts were individually exemplary while its whole was greater than the sum of those parts.
Heimes once again turned out to be the star attraction of the concert, as she almost always has been whenever I’ve heard her. She possesses a soprano voice that is the loveliest in tone, virtually flawless in projection, most immaculate in pitch and most crisply enunciated in diction that I have ever encountered in concert. If I weren’t actually sitting there in the church, hearing her perform “live” right in front of me, I’m sure I would find myself wondering if she were somehow lip-synching the vocal parts. But I know that isn’t the case because no pre-recorded, studio performance could ever communicate such unfettered and unaffected joy at making music.
Even more impressive Saturday evening, Heimes was able to cast her singing as one of many voices in the contrapuntal texture of the music. Perhaps, indeed, the principal voice but never one that so overly dominated the others that the instrumentalists became her accompanists. Rather, they all were collaborators in making music that both celebrated the passing of the autumnal harvest season and the promise of the planting season to come in spring, or that spoke of the hope of an altogether better world.
Those instrumentalists, I hasten to add, played superbly. Roberts’ sweet recorder playing was elegant and energetic. Bregman proved himself a sterling virtuoso on the sackbut, a predecessor of the modern trombone. Along with Wiemken on several different bass instruments, he provided a solid foundation for the high-flying counterpoint of his colleagues. Kiri Tollaksen added brilliance to the proceedings on her cornetto, Kimball and Zajac played their bagpipes tartly, and Herreid supplied delicate lute accompaniments throughout the evening.
Piffaro will return to the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Saturday, March 29, 8 p.m., for “The Band and the Bard,” a celebration of the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.
For ticket information, call 215-235-8469 or visit www.piffaro.org.