We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
This disc features interesting interpretations and some seldom-heard lyrics for Playford English country dances, but the music as played here is not especially suited to accompanying traditional dancing. The often nonstandard tempos and the lengthy repetitions through many ballad verses (about one-third of the tunes are ballads) render this recording mainly of historical and experimental interest. There are some exceptions. One is the wistful “Parsons Farewell.” Sounding like a real “farewell” (a baroque lament for the dead), it proves a welcome ear-opener for a listener accustomed to hearing the tune played at dances with more bounce than bereavement. In “Newcastle,” the addition of a bass viol, a 17th-century predecessor of the modern cello, is an inspiration that opens up this zestful favorite. Fluid wooden flute improvisations also help lift this standard to intoxicating levels. Similarly, improvisations in the title tune weave through the ensemble like puffs of smoke popping from a witches’ cauldron. The bass viol takes a swinging syncopated solo toward the end; plucked rather than bowed, it creates a pleasant laid-back effect, recalling a cool-jazz double bass. Unfortunately, the musicians’ interpretive liberality sometimes gets them into trouble. “The French Report,” a graceless ballad set to the minor tune “Nonesuch,” gets low marks. Playing the song at about half the tempo usual for dancing accentuates its repetitive character, and the bagpipe droning through most of it enhances the soporific effect. In “Jenny Pluck Pears,” the group reverses the traditional tempos of the first and second halves (usually a jig and a waltz, respectively) to ludicrous effect. Despite these few conceptual gaffs, however, the performances are well wrought.