Category Archives: Early Music

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and St. Philip’s Schola celebrate St. Cecila with works by Purcell and Handel

by Mark Gresham | 20 NOV 2016

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, St. Philip's Cathedral Schola perform Purcell's "Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day."

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, St. Philip’s Cathedral Schola perform Purcell’s “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day.” (photo: Mark Gresham)

On Saturday evening, November 19, at The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, led by artistic director Julie Andrijeski, in collaboration with the Schola of the Cathedral of St. Philip, directed by Dale Adelmann, and the Friends of Cathedral Music, presented a concert of music for St. Cecilia’s Day by Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Featured vocal soloists were soprano Teresa Wakim, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Mischa Bouvier. The program is scheduled to be repeated on Sunday, November 20 at 4:00 pm at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell, Georgia.

In Anglican, Catholic and eastern Orthodox churchs the feast day of St. Cecilia is observed on November 22 each year. Public concerts of music in her honor, scheduled around that date, have been common in London since the 1683, when the first was organized by the Musical Society of London.

Saturday’s program consisted of what are perhaps the two best known examples of Baroque music which celebrate St. Cecilia, the patroness saint of music and musicians: Henry Purcell’s Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day (1692) and G.F. Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (1739).

Both works began with orchestral introductions. In the “Symphony” which began Purcell’s work, the orchestra seemed to have difficulty finding a consensus with regard to the music’s pulse. One wondered whether there might have been difficulty hearing left to right across the space between the cathedral’s transepts. By contrast, after intermission, the “Overture” to Handel’s ode was was secure, the ensemble much tighter and more sharply defined. That held true for the rest of the work.

Henry Purcell (engraving by R. White)

Henry Purcell (engraving by R. White)

The ringing sound of the Cathedral Schola, with a roster of 34 singers, filled the space easily in the louder homophonic passages without overextending. Like the instrumental intros of the orchestra, the contrapuntal singing was more clearly defined in the Handel, with the Schola’s polyphonic choral skills most exuberantly displayed in its busy, energetic finale.

Of the guest vocal soloists, only Wakim and Cooley sang in both works. Wakim did better and sang more extensively in the Handel, where she demonstrated an amiably clear and liquid soprano tone. Cooley’s appealingly lyrical tenor was also more prominently displayed in the Handel, although there were fine moments in the Purcell as well.

George Frideric Handel in 1733, by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel (portrait by Balthasar Denner. 1733)

The others sang in the Purcell ode. Bouvier, with his deep-toned baritone voice, was the most prominent among them in that work, consistently heard well against the orchestra. Mosley’s flute-like countertenor was suited to style but translucent enough to nearly disappear in the texture at times in context of the Cathdral’s resonant acoustics — a notable exception being in a trio (“With that sublime Celestial Lay”) between himself, Cooley and Bouvier, who lightened up a little to better balance with his higher-voiced colleagues. Although uncredited in the program, bass Timothy Gunter stepped out of the ranks of the chorus for a credible duo with Bouvier near the work’s end (“Let these among themselves contest”).

The goal of “period” groups like Atlanta Baroque Orchestra is to present such music, through “historical performance practice,” in a way that Handel and Purcell might have heard it performed in their own day, on original or replicated instruments of the era. It was good to have an opportunity to hear and compare these St. Cecilia odes performed from that perspective by the ABO, the Cathedral Schola and their guest soloists. •

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Review: New Trinity Baroque goes old-school with early music for “Candlelight Christmas” [ArtsATL]

by Mark Gresham | 23 Dec 2014

New Trinity Baroque hopes to restore its five-performance season. (Photo courtesy of New Trinity Baroque)

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. …

Preview: New Trinity Baroque celebrates 10th “Candlelight Christmas” despite season cutback

by Mark Gresham | 20 Dec 2014

New Trinity Baroque

   New Trinity Baroque (photo by Richard Calmes)

This Sunday evening, New Trinity Baroque, will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its “Candlelight Christmas” concerts at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. The annual event typically draws a near-capacity audience to the church’s 400-seat sanctuary, but it is not your typical holiday concert. New Trinity Baroque is one of a small cadre of music ensembles in Atlanta which present “historically informed” performances of Baroque and other pre-classical Western music on the 17th and early 18th-century “period” instruments for which it was written, whether authentic antiques or carefully-crafted reproductions.

Sunday’s program will feature Christmas-themed concertos, suites and pastorales from the Baroque era performed in a “by candlelight” atmosphere. The mix includes works from more familiar composers like Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann to the relatively obscure Johann Christoph Pez, whose 350th birth anniversary is this year. The group’s artistic director, Predrag Gosta, has hand-picked an ensemble of nine musicians for the occasion – some well-established Atlanta locals, some flown in from as far as Germany.

The notion of authenticity, recreating the music as closely as possible the way the composers themselves might have heard it, is a major goal of “historically informed performance practice.” However, Gosta notes that the primary motivation for performing on Baroque-period instruments is a more fundamentally human, emotional one.

Predrag Gosta

Predrag Gosta (photo by Pia Rabea Vornholt)

“We play on period instruments because, first, we like it,” says Gosta “The sound of period instruments is something that is very beautiful to me.” Only after that affinity, he suggests, can musicians try to answer the question about how playing them allows the music to be heard as the composer intended. One could say that by doing so, achieving that ideal is already half done.

“But period instruments are absolutely useless unless you know how to use them,” cautions Gosta, “and even more important, unless you bring the energy into them. I’ve had amazing successful performances with all modern instruments playing Baroque music which sounded better than some ensembles playing on period instruments because use of period instruments cannot justify why you perform Baroque music.”

But like many other ensembles whose lifeboats are still rocking in the wake of the post-2008 Great Recession, New Trinity Baroque faces harsh financial realities today, and has been forced to pare its normal complement of five concerts per season down to a total of two for this season. Sunday’s concert is the first of those. Another will take place at the end of March.

Gosta readily admits that Atlanta’s “early music” community is surprisingly small, much smaller than in European cities and American cities which he suggests have longer, deeper cultural roots that support early music. It is a phenomenon he has observed ever since his arrival in Atlanta in 1998, noting that “there are few early music ensembles here which basically rotate the same audience.”

Arcangelo Corelli:

Arcangelo Corelli: not a dancing Christmas tree.

A portion of New Trinity Baroque’s general audience, he says, is due to concert location rather than musical style, drawn from the area surrounding St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, which has been their home venue for the last 10 years. But then there’s the hard-core audience, those who come not only from Atlanta, but from as far away as Alabama and North Carolina.

“These are those aficionados of early music who want to hear us,” says Gosta, “and are those that you will see regularly at concerts other ensembles or choirs that also specialize in earlier repertoire, because they like that kind of music.”

But Gosta recognizes that for the ensemble to continue to succeed and rebuild its next season, it is going to have to draw upon broader support while not sacrificing its mission of musical authenticity — without trading Corelli concerti for dancing Christmas trees. Thankfully, Gosta is not concerned with having to resort to the latter, as “Candlelight Christmas” has been New Trinity Baroque’s most popular, well-attended concert over the years, either selling out or almost doing so each year.

While presenting live concerts of a specialty genre is an increasingly expensive enterprise, it affords a way to being musicians and audiences closer together. This Sunday’s concert provides Atlanta audiences one excellent opportunity to become acquainted and celebrate the season with Baroque music rendered in the intriguing timbres of instruments for which it was originally written.

Mark Gresham is also a regular contributing writer for ArtsATL.

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.