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Classical Album of the Week: The Food of Love, Music from Shakespeare's Time

April 20, 2020. “If music be the food of love, play on.” The Baltimore Consort’s latest recording, The Food of Love, takes its cue from Duke Orsino’s opening line in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  As the Bard’s birthday is traditionally marked on April 23rd, it's a perfect time to feature this album of music associated with his plays as our Classical Album of the Week.
The Baltimore Consort, a mixed ensemble with soprano, and five players on viols, cittern, lute, flutes, and fifes, was formed 40 years ago, with the purpose of performing music from Shakespeare’s time. 

Here is Tarleton's Jig, from its concert program, The Food of Love: Songs, Dances, and Fancies for Shakespeare, at the 2016 Madison Early Music Festival. 

The 26 musical selections on The Food of Love album come from the plays As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV, Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, the Tempest, Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, and a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The songs, dances, and fancies are given well-balanced, lively, and expressive performances by the Consort’s members. Ronn McFarlane’s artful lute playing gives each piece momentum and finesse. Danielle Svonevic’s clear soprano always tells an engaging story, whether  in humorous songs such as Morley’s "It was a Lover and his Lass.”

Or more melancholy fare, as heard in Richard Edwards’ “When Griping Grief.”

The Baltimore Consort notes that there are hundreds of references to music in Shakespeare’s work. Incidental music is specifically called for in stage directions, and Shakespeare wrote the lyrics to many songs that appear in his plays. He also incorporated popular songs of the era.  Elizabethan-era lutenist Robert Johnson wrote much of the music in Shakespeare's plays, but John Dowland, Anthony Holborne, Thomas Morley and others also contributed works to enrich the theatrical productions.

The Baltimore Consort performs around the country and has released 17 albums on the Sono Luminus label.  The Food of Love takes us back to a time when Will Shakespeare's audiences basked in both verse and melody. 

Check out more Classical Albums of the Week here.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.