Mining that rich collection of Spanish Renaissance music, El Cancionero de Palacio, the high-profile early music body La Compania began its Recital Centre series on Thursday with loads of enthusiasm and the welcome assistance of soprano Lotte Betts-Dean whose agility and variety of timbre gave a refreshing added character to the ensemble’s work. For the most part, this program alternated between purely instrumental and sung pieces, Betts-Dean making a vivid impact in less sparsely accompanied songs, like the anonymous gems Tres morillas and Que me queries, caballero? where the vocal line enjoyed the supple support of Rosemary Hodgson’s vihuela alone.
Director Danny Lucin and his group of experts mounted a well-rounded selection that covered a wide ground, from earthy dances like the hefty opening Rodrigo Martinez to restrained reflections found in Juan del Enzina’s elegant if mournful Triste Espana sin ventura. But the Cancionero is loaded with surprises: angular melodies that maintain an essential fluency, steadiness of rhythm and metre that barely conceals asymmetrical phrase lengths, and a flexibility of structure that allows for full polyphonic interplay alongside simple lyrics delivered without ornamentation.
La Compania’s work is unfailingly enjoyable, principally because its members offer informed musicianship and security, best demonstrated on this night by two breakneck solo demonstrations from Lucin’s cornetto, the melding of rapid action with sombre textures from the sackbuts of Julian Bain and Glenn Bardwell, the infectious buzz that entered the mix with Mitchell Cross’s penetrating shawm, and the ever-fresh and appropriate percussion choices of Christine Baker.