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King's Noyse enlivens songs from the French court

David Douglass and the King's Noyse opened the Boston Early Music Festival on Monday. David Douglass and the King's Noyse opened the Boston Early Music Festival on Monday.

It's an exaggeration to call Monday's performance by the King's Noyse the 16th-century equivalent of a pop concert. The program, titled "Les Jardin des Mélodies," was thoroughly aristocratic: secular songs and dances from the French royal court. But the music's energy demonstrated the affinity so many folk- and psychedelic-rock performers in the 1960s and '70s felt for Renaissance sounds. It fittingly opened the Boston Early Music Festival's seven days of peace and music.

David Douglass's group has played variations of this program before (it recorded it in 1997); Monday's concert, far from stale, was graced with the flexibility and ease of familiar mastery. In Pierre Phalèse's "Les Bouffons," violinist Douglass and his fellow strings -- violists Robert Mealy, Shira Kammen , and Julie Andrijeski , along with bass violinist David Morris -- genially livened up the slow, modal opening with flourishes of increasing harmonic pungency, then breezed into a faster dance, bouncing and swinging.

The anonymous lyric "O combien est heureuse" had Paul O'Dette providing accompaniment on Renaissance guitar, smaller than its modern descendant; when Pat O'Brien's bass lute kicked in on the second verse, one realized that Top 40 ballads have a long pedigree. (O'Dette, a festival co-director, later took a guitar-hero turn on a quartet of solo dances.) "Ton amour mon maistresse," another anonymous song, demonstrated "musique mesurée," a then-current vogue for letting the rhythms of the French language guide the music. The resulting repetitive, metrically irregular drive called to mind post-Genesis Peter Gabriel. Andrijeski set aside her viola to step a pair of sprightly Phalèse galliardes with guest dancer Ken Pierce; the indispensable Tom Zajac , manning a battery of percussion, underpinned the most danceable selections, finding an entire timbral vocabulary even in a lone tambourine.

For soprano Ellen Hargis , joining the ensemble for a handful of vocal numbers, less was more. "Laissez la verte couleur," the story of the death of Adonis, had an unaffected directness, with a compelling clarity of diction and phrasing. Elsewhere, however, expressive modifications of tone interfered with her breath flow and, by extension, enunciation and intonation. For "Hélas faut-il que je lamente," an anonymous scene of royal grief, Hargis underlined the drama, but one suspected that a more austere presentation would have heightened the work's power.

It was a curiously somber end to the program proper, but Douglass and company rectified the situation by reprising "Ton amour mon maistresse," the rhythmic interaction more playful, the pauses more impish. Every good band knows when it's got a hit on its hands.


The King's Noyse

David Douglass, director

Presented by the Boston Early Music Festival.

At: Jordan Hall, Monday