Freelance writer specialising in music, film, travel, sustainability and human rights. @Jas_Crittenden
Mediaeval songs, poetry and clowning
Since 1967, the Renaissance Players, Australia's longest-running early music group, have been bringing mediaeval songs to Antipodean audiences. Directed by Winsome Evans OAM, the ensemble is made up of nine or ten vocalists and instrumentalists, a poetry reciter and, depending on the day, a clown or two.
In 1973, the Players inaugurated the annual Runnymede Pop Festival, and, over the October long weekend, presented the event's 35th incarnation at the Great Hall, Sydney University. With 2,500 songs in their repertoire, the group faces no shortage of programming options. This year, tunes came from Spain, France, Germany, Italy and England, ranging from rustic courtly dances to sacred melodies to political satires.
Highlights included the cantigas de miragres, which formed part of the 13th century collection of Spanish King Alfonso X; The Monks' Soft-Shoe-Shuffle Dance, which had some of the audience members up dancing, monk-style; and the concluding pieces, Saltarello I and Saltarello II, which the Renaissance Players have been performing since the '60s.
The courtly costumes and stage design injected a bright ambiance to the Great Hall's Gothic architecture. A miming clown (Erasmus) provided comic relief with various antics, including encouraging audience members to play the ensemble's instruments, while Geoff Sirmai delivered some nicely articulated poetry, the subject matter of which ranged from bawdy humour to social criticism.
As always, the ensemble members displayed their virtuosity across a range of instruments, with Winsome Evans playing no fewer than ten - from the harp to the organetto to the pandero - and the vocalists delivered clear, keenly felt interpretations.