Early music ensemble New Trinity Baroque celebrated the 10th anniversary of its “Baroque Candlelight Christmas” concerts on Sunday at its home venue, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.
Aside from the “by candlelight” atmosphere, the programming varies somewhat each year. For this decennial presentation, artistic director Predrag Gosta led an ensemble of nine musicians in performances of Christmas-themed concertos, suites and pastorales by Corelli, Telemann, Muffat, Platti, Vivaldi, Torelli, Pergolesi, Pez, Lully and J. S. Bach — all instrumental works, no vocals.
For those who are novice to Atlanta’s small but devoted “early music” scene, New Trinity Baroque is an ensemble that specializes in “historically informed” performances on the 17th- and early-18th-century “period” instruments for which Baroque music was written. The musicians for the evening were Karolina Bäter on transverse flute and recorders (aka Blockflötes), Evan Few and Ute Marks on baroque violin, William Bauer on baroque viola, Chrissy Spencer on viola da gamba, André Laurent O’Neil on baroque cello, Martha Bishop on violone, William Hearn on chitarrone and Gosta directing from the harpsichord and, for one work, a portable chamber organ.
This was Gosta’s second public performance of the day. In midafternoon, he conducted the Gwinnett Ballet Theatre Orchestra for that preprofessional ballet’s final performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, an hour-and-a-half-long production that began at 2:30 p.m. So it was not entirely a surprise that the audience, which began queuing for tickets and entry to St. Bart’s sanctuary just before 7 p.m., was finally let in for seating only a minute or so before showtime and the performance began a tad late.
The group opened with the pleasant “Christmas Concerto” of Arcangelo Corelli, his best-known composition. It was followed by Georg Philipp Telemann’s witty Quadro in G minor, one of a group of quartets for recorder, strings and basso continuo, and the nine-minute “Passacaglia,” a splendid set of 25 variations on a persistent bass line, that concludes the Sonata No. 5 of Georg Muffat’s “Armonico Tributo.”
The first half concluded with a rare treat, Giovanni Benedetto Platti’s Cello Concerto No. 8 in D major, featuring O’Neil as soloist. The concerto is unpublished and the music’s manuscripts are part of the private music collection of Platti’s employer, Count Rudolf von Schönborn. The music was made available to New Trinity Baroque by the current Count, S. E. Paul von Schönborn.
O’Neil gave a fine rendering of the virtuosic solo cello part. This is only the second time O’Neil and New Trinity Baroque have performed the work together. The first was in the opening concert of their 2013-–14 season, in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Platti’s death.
After intermission the concert continued with a far more familiar work, Antonio Vivaldi’s Flautino Concerto in C major, featuring Bäter as soloist on sopranino recorder. Bäter later returned to the solo again, playing the sweeter-sounding transverse flute in Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Flute Concerto in G major. Both were brilliant performances on these very different types of flutes and the highlights of the evening. Sandwiched in between these concertos was Giuseppe Torelli’s “Christmas” Concerto in G major, the only work in which Gosta played the portable “positif” organ, to good effect.
The final three works of the evening were played as a set without applause in between: the “Badinerie” from J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2; another passacaglia, this time from the Concerto Pastorale in F major by Johann Christoph Pez. The set, and the concert, concluded with a fun novelty piece by Jean-Baptiste Lully, “Marche pour la Ceremonie des Turcs” from “Le Bougeois Gentilhomme,” a five-act comédie-ballet by Molière for which Lully wrote the music — essentially the French Baroque equivalent of a modern musical. For that, Gosta also played tambourine, enhancing the “Turkish” character of the music.
But like many other ensembles, New Trinity Baroque is still dealing with the consequences of the post-2008 Great Recession. While it normally presents a complement of five concerts per season, financial realities have forced it to pare down its offerings to a total of two this season. Sunday’s concert was the first. The next will take place in late March. In the meantime, Gosta is hoping to rebuild enough public awareness and support to restore the group’s next season to its accustomed five concerts.