Writing Samples

Review of Bedlam, a lute and soprano duo

Featuring a curious 17th-century drawing of a peg-legged, cross-eyed jester playing a cittern, the uncommonly-named duo, Bedlam, presents its first CD. The name is a reference to psychiatric hospitals, or insane asylums, of Renaissance England, although soprano Kayleen…

Review of “Bedlam,” by Kayleen Sánchez and Maudon Schuett, written by Katharyn R. Benessa, published in The Lute Society of America Quarterly, 51/2 2016

Featuring a curious 17th-century drawing of a peg-legged, cross-eyed jester playing a cittern, the uncommonly-named duo, Bedlam, presents its first CD. The name is a reference to psychiatric hospitals, or insane asylums, of Renaissance England, although soprano Kayleen Sánchez and lutenist Laudon Schuett favor a milder perspective claiming they must be mad to pursue music (no madder than the lot of us, I’d wager!). No matter the interpretation, Bedlam is one of the more creative names for an early music group, evoking the sordid underbelly of Renaissance England, rich with possibility for programming. 

The included works are primarily Scottish and English from the Jacobean period with a particular emphasis on Scottish songs. For these, Sánchez studied historical pronunciation: her enunciation and the rolled Scottish ‘r’ adds lovely flavor and authenticity to these works. Indeed, I initially assumed she was Scottish. The English pieces are all by Thomas Campion and Sánchez elegantly and naturally employs 17th-century pronunciation here as well. The few pieces that lie outside the Jacobean era are three solo lute works of Italian Vincenzo Capirola and a most arresting Scottish song by the slightly later composer, John Fethy. 

The subject matter ranges from the dark and poignantly spiritual, such as “Even Dead Behold I Breathe” with its repeated lament, “O cruel, deadly feud!,” to a collection of hearty praises to the joys of May, including “O lusty May,” “In a garden so green,” and “Into a mirthful May morning.”

The Scottish songs are especially attractive, often-strophic narratives, and a handsome selection from lute song repertory. Especially for the Scottish works (and even for English pieces), access to the lyrics and translations into modern English is useful. For this purpose Bedlam created an online pdf file, 

https://bedlamearlymusic.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/bedlam-texts-and-modern-translations1.pdf, without which you might never know that “Lyk as the dum Solsequium” translates to the endearing “Like the sad sunflower.”

The final three pieces of the recording stand out in regards to the interaction between singer and lutenist, the depth of subject, and the interpretation. Fethy’s “The Time of Youth” is an intriguing piece, thoughtful, with long dramatic pauses expressing loss.  An odd and lingering piece, Sánchez sings ”To grieve my God omnipotent I took no cure.” Of all the works presented, this one best recalls another time and connects somewhat to the more disturbing side of duo’s evocative name. The interaction between Schuett and Sánchez is subtle and delicate. Playfulness between the duo breaks out in “Into a Mirthful May Morning,” which requires precise coordination but remains light and witty. Finally, one cannot hear “Remember me my Deir” without recalling Dido’s repeated entreaty, “Remember me” in Purcell’s opera, thus shaping a touching ending to this recording.

There are three Italian lute solos from the lovely Capirola manuscript which precede the other works by two generations but likely were known in England. The first is Recercar Sesto which emulates imitative vocal writing and Tientalora is a jolly piece with an improvisatory style.  Notwithstanding, grouping the solo works together was a lost opportunity. Interspersing them  among the vocal works would have been more effective programming, affording the opportunity to link the solo works to vocal ones, either by mode or musical motive. For instance, in the liner notes it is mentioned that the Tientolora is based on a “fa-la-la” refrain: perhaps it could have been paired with the song,”How Shall a Young Man,” which also contains a “la-la-la” refrain.  Further, the addition of lute solos within the vocal works or other changes of texture such as occasional rhythmic strumming would have been welcome, particularly on strophic or more repetitive pieces.

One final point: For any musician, and perhaps especially for up-and-coming artists, a CD serves not only as a showcase to share one’s talent and love of music, but as a means to further a career in music, and in this regard only, the CD packaging has some small faults. No where on the front or back covers are the names of the artists, nor what type of musical forces are within. The liner notes include a lovely photo of the duo, however, beneath the photo, again, the names of the performers are not listed, although everyone else involved in the recording is. And while the liner notes are thoughtful and informative, only towards the end is the duo introduced. Bedlam does provide an address for their website (http://www.bedlamearlymusic.com) which includes videos of the duo performing these pieces, a link for purchasing their CD through iTunes, and a way to contact them, although contact information directly on the CD package would be beneficial.

But these are minor issues. I find myself humming the tunes when no music is playing and return to the disc for repeat performances. I look forward to more from this duo and hope they continue to explore diverse material, engaging in all the directions their name can lead them.