Last year, I was very disappointed to miss the Piccolo Spoleto debut of New Trinity Baroque, an early music ensemble from Atlanta – for their reputation had preceded them. So color me happy when I learned that local early music guru Steve Rosenberg was bringing them back to adorn the 23rd consecutive season of his ever-popular Piccolo Early Music Series. Saturday's performance at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church was the first of five scheduled programs through May 27.
The church was pretty well-packed for the afternoon's "Grand Tour" program that explored the four great national traditions of Baroque-era Europe: those of Italy, France, Germany, and England. And, since NTB offers "historically informed" performances on original ancient instruments (or their replicas), authentic period sound and style are guaranteed.
The instruments at hand appear to be nearly identical to modern violins, violas, cellos, and double-basses. But special old-time bows and bridges are employed, and they're all strung with gut, as opposed to modern steel strings. Such original trappings — plus ancient playing techniques (like minimal vibrato) and tuning schemes — produce a distinctly thinner, sharper, and more searing sound than we normally hear.
Directed by Predrag Gosta (also the harpsichordist), NTB's five musicians are violinists Carrie Krause and Adriana post, violist William Bauer, and cellist Andre Laurent O'Neil, with Martha Bishop on violone (Baroque double-bass).
They began their musical tour with everybody's favorite early Italian master, Antonio Vivaldi, offering a scintillating rendition of one of his many concertos for strings; this one did not feature a soloist. From there, they took us to France with an elegant trio sonata by Jean-Marie LeClair.
From there, it wasn't far to Germany. We got a wonderfully inventive "canonic sonata" for two violins by Georg Philipp Telemann, plus two works by J. S. Bach (his well-known "Air on the G-string," plus two movements from one of his great solo violin partitas, played with supreme virtuosity and flair by Ms. Krause).
Although England claims him, Georg Friedrich Handel was born and raised in Germany. NTB treated us to a vibrant and fascinating "passacaglia" of his, drawn from the "balletto" (dance) sequence of one of his many Italian-style operas. The final English selection was an intricate and lovely chaconne in four parts by Henry Purcell.
If you dig Baroque music, you need to hear this terrific ensemble; they're one of America's premier period groups. You have four more chances to hear them before their current run ends on May 27 and Rosenberg's College of Charleston ensembles take over for the rest of the series.