Once Upon A Timeless Journey

Owain Phyfe, voice and chitarra battente

Sasha Raykov, bass viola da gamba

May 22, 2002, John Walden Arts Center

review by Peter Jacobi

The Bloomington Herald-Times

Exciting 'Journey' brings music back from the past

"And there one was, in the auditorium of the John Waldron Arts Center on Wednesday evening, being moved, moved backward in time, centuries back, moved around Europe, from the British Isles eastward, all the way to the Ukraine, with numerous spots between.

It was Owain Phyfe who served as guide, as conductor, as driver, as magician, really as singer and guitarist and story teller.

Filtered through his cool and with-it personality, the songs of long ago were, somehow, brought back to life, and a listener could easily imagine the amours and longings and adventures of way back when a troubadour might sing at the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Provence in the 12th century; when Richard the Lion-Hearted dreamed up his lament while imprisoned in Austria following his quest as a knight errant in the third Crusade; when Isabella and Ferdinand listened to musical entertainers, perhaps forgetting about Columbus and his explorations during relaxed moments at the court; when a Scottish lad sang of "a garden so green," and lovers exulted or grieved anywhere and everywhere.

Phyfe's "Once Upon A Timeless Journey" proved a delightful pleasure. With his inviting, craftily used light tenor, he negotiated his time capsule to show that folk traditions have remained constant, that the catchy melodies of close to 1,000 years ago - or 400 - are just as winning today, and that no matter what language they're sung in - English or French or Welsh or Latin or German or Italian or Spanish or Hungarian or Russian or what have you - they translate musically and thematically so that they can be easily understood.

Why, for a few brief moments, the audience was invited to participate in what Phyfe called a Renaissance Sing-along, a happy "Fa-la-la" collaboration.

The tenor/story teller was not alone in his performance space. He had a partner, verbally silent but very much a presence, the provider of accompaniment, a bearded bear of a man named Sasha Raykov. And, it was Raykov who had the genius to make the bass viola da gamba an interesting instrument, far from the bland, personality-less sound-maker it more normally is. He bowed. He strummed. He made those strings dance and sing and laugh and cry. His was a virtuosic exhibition, at every moment completing partner Phyfe's front-and-center showmanship.

Their unusual program, part of the Bloomington Early Music Festival, cast a different light on music of Medieval and Renaissance times. But though the expressions were old, the messages were ageless. At one point, in joyous, bouncing manner, Phyfe sang: "Winter is coming with all its unpleasantness, but here in this valley, the flowers will still bloom and the birds sing." He called it a 21st century message. It was nice to be reminded."

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