New music for period instruments is not always convincing. But in these substantial works, James Rolfe avoids pastiche, homage, and self-conscious novelty, creating music that is subtle, sophisticated, and surprising. 
In Breathe (2011) Anna Chatterton’s new texts weave a seamless whole with much older words from Hildegard von Bingen and Antonio Scandello. Written for a trio of women’s voices with a small ensemble of Baroque instruments, Rolfe’s music honours the timbres and conventions of much earlier repertoire, and yet is fully his own language. Breathe is performed by stalwarts of Toronto’s early music scene, whose superb musicianship in this new repertoire is a revelation: particularly mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell, whose extraordinary voice, glowing and gleaming through the counterpoint, highlights Rolfe’s elegant, lyrical lines and beautiful use of suspensions.
Europa (2013; libretto by Steven Heighton) and Aeneas and Dido (2007; libretto by André Alexis) are companions to Baroque works. Alexis’ thoughtful imagining of Aeneas’ interior life is deft, and baritone Alexander Dobson steals both shows, with his excellent phrasing, enviable diction, and captivating sense of character. David Fallis and Larry Beckwith lead dynamic performances. The Toronto Masque Theatre is in its final season; it has played an important role in commissioning new music-drama in Canada, and it’s wonderful to have these two works preserved in such fine recordings.
A few discrepancies between the printed and sung texts are mildly distracting; otherwise the CD booklet is a helpful companion, including a thoughtful introduction by Paul Dutton.