I have never been a big fan of baroque music, except for the compositions of Bach and some Vivaldi. The music has struck me as elegant and pleasant enough, but mannered and devoid of feeling. Even with Vivaldi, I often hear “sewing machine” music. I have not liked recordings of Baroque music since they so often have the harpsichord so closely mic’d that it seems like it is driving the music rather than supporting it. I also have not liked recordings of period instrument recordings. The strings often sound strident to me.
Two weeks ago, however, my views were challenged. I had an opportunity to hear a concert, titled “Italian Baroque Extravaganza”, by the New Trinity Baroque Ensemble (NTB). The venue was St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, which is an attractively contemporary structure in a suburban neighborhood. The building’s acoustics seemed to be a flattering fit for the ensemble’s period instruments. Predrag Gosta is the conductor. When addressing the audience between works, his enthusiasm is engaging and fun.
There are ten musicians in the ensemble and Gosta conducts from the harpsichord or chamber organ as required. Two instruments of particular note in the ensemble are the baroque harp and the chittarone, which is largest of the lute family, developed in Italy during 16th century. It was designed to improve on the bass register of the lute. The sound of the NTB was wonderful and golden. There was no stridency in the higher registers and the harpsichord took its appropriate role as an integral part of the ensemble, without receiving undue highlighting. The sound was indeed elegant and without the harshness that I have come to associate with period-informed recordings of Baroque music.
Six pieces comprised the program. There were three pieces by Vivaldi. The standout for me was the Concerto for 2 Cellos, which contained some of the richest and warmest melodies that I have heard from the Baroque period. The Vivaldi “Stabat Mater,” with soloist Magdalena Wor, was also beautifully performed. All of the pieces were fairly short, which is not all bad considering the uncomfortable chairs in the church!
Gosta, and the NTB, rekindled my interest in the Baroque and period-informed performances. I also think that this concert was the best I have attended in Atlanta over the last three years. I look forward to attending again.