The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: As the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble approaches its 25th anniversary and goes non-profit, it once again demonstrates its versatility and virtuosity.

December 2, 2013
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ALERT: On this Tuesday, December 3, at 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW-Madison Early Music Ensemble, under the direction of  performer sand Telemann scholar Professor Jeanne Swack (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), will be present a FREE concert of 18th-century chamber music, including works by Benedetto Marcello, Georg Philipp Telemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Scherer. Here is a link to the UW School of of Music events calendar. Click on the concert listing and read the fascinating and informative notes about the program.

Jeanne Swack

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.


By John W. Barker

Despite the distractions of the Thanksgiving weekend, and tricky weather, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble drew a quite respectable audience of about 60 to its latest concert at the Gates of Heaven historic synagogue in James Madison Park on Saturday night.

That venue may seem austere but the acoustics are splendid, and the scale of its hall matches the spacial qualities of a Baroque salon where cultivated friends would gather to make music together.  That is true “chamber” music. (Judge for yourself by listening to the group performing a work by C.P.E. Bach at the Gates of Heaven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Gates of Heaven

And that is exactly the spirit that the WBE seeks to recreate, with a pool of excellent specialist performers. Cellist Anton TenWolde (below) has worked to emphasize collegiality, describing his group as a “collective,” with himself as a traffic cop rather than as dictator.  For each program, performers propose pieces that they would like to explore, and the menu is worked out by agreement.

anton tenwolde

The team this time consisted of six instrumentalists and one singer, all of them established WBE veterans. A recurrent Hispanic element was contributed by mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo, who sang three endearing solo numbers of the 17th century, partly from Spain, but one, a Christmas piece, from Mexico.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

French music was a strong component, with Brett Lipshutz tossing off with flair a sonata for traverso flute by Louis-Antoine Dornel. Also on traverso, Monica Steger joined him for a trio sonata by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre. And gamba player Eric Miller bravely brought to vigorous life a really high-power set of pieces by Antoine Forqueray.

But there was a strong German component as well.  Harpsichordist Max Yount played a multi-fugal keyboard Capriccio by Georg Böhm–the only solo piece (that is, without any bass players) in the program. More-or-less German composers were represented in performances by Theresa Koenig. First, in the best-known of the sonatas for recorder and basso continuo (in A minor) by George Frideric Handel (below top), and then, in a switch of instruments, a probing sonata by Georg Philipp Telemann (below bottom) for bassoon and continuo.

handel big 3

georg philipp telemann

Such versatility was by no means unique in this program.  The amazingly accomplished Steger not only appeared on recorder or traverso but also in the harpsichord continuo role in the two sonatas played by Koenig. In other rotations, gambist Miller and cellist TenWolde took turns as the string player in the ever-present continuo functions.

It has become needless to say that these performers are all skilled musicians.  We are also used to the warm collegiality they display, in sharing music with each other, and with the audience. The program formats, the performing location, have become comfortably familiar to those who are the group’s loyal followers.

But it is ever so easy to take all that for granted.  What needs to be pointed out is the durability of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble. Building on some earlier groupings and activities, it was founded by TenWolde in 1990, and has been performing ever since. That is to say, it will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary!

In many ways, the full blossoming of early music activities burst forth with the creation of the annual Madison Early Music Festival in 2000. But for a decade before that, the WBE was busily preparing the ground, and has continued to add depth and nuance to that part of our musical scene 

Such an achievement deserves not only acclaim, but also audience support. The group has become legally incorporated and will seek tax-exempt status. That status that will become official on January 1, 2014, a year before the WBE marks its 25th anniversary. So it is most definitely here to stay, as an important factor in Madison’s musical life.

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