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New Trinity Baroque opens its 11th season

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In the past decade, Atlanta’s period-instrument scene has been richer than in comparable cities thanks to two independent ensembles. Today, both face daunting financial obstacles.

The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra has no music director (since energizing conductor John Hsu resigned for health reasons in May) and, with uncertain funding, has just one confirmed date for the upcoming season. The ABO Web site hasn’t been updated since last spring.

Atlanta’s other historically-informed band, New Trinity Baroque, does have its five-concert season booked, although funding for the whole season, estimated at $50,000, isn’t a done deal. “I’ll be bluntly honest, the recession is hitting us hard,” New Trinity founder and harpsichordist Predrag Gosta said Saturday night at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, introducing the season-opening concert — and pleading for donations — to an audience that was notably smaller than usual. Continuing the appeal at intermission, an NTB board member, Holley Calmes, summarized: “It’s very frightening for smaller arts groups in Atlanta right now.”

Yet in performance, five core members of New Trinity Baroque (in photo; Gosta, at far left, didn’t perform) again proved themselves invaluable…
By juxtaposing composers from two distinct eras, they heightened the differences between the classical sensuousness of Haydn and Mozart and the structural clarity of Bach and Telemann. In the process, we heard the seismic aesthetic changes that occurred within a generation or two in the mid-1700s.

The music started with a Haydn Divertimento in D Major, a trio, dispatched convincingly (and in tune) with William Bauer taking the lead on the viola d’amore, joined by violinist Adriane Post and cellist André Laurent O’Neil. The influence of Janissary (or Turkish) band music in the finale was a treat, a raucous little episode where Haydn slipped “world” music into his dapper courtly entertainment. Brilliant stuff, beautifully played.

“Eine kleine Nachtmusick” is perhaps the only piece of late Mozart — he composed it around the time of “Don Giovanni” — that doesn’t stand up well to repeated listening. I’m likely not the only person who clicks off the radio as soon as the WABE announcer says “Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields” and “Eine kleine” in the same sentence.

New Trinity played this little piece of night music as a quintet, with violinist Carrie Krause and low-voiced violone player Martha Bishop joining their three colleagues. On period-instruments, tuned lower than a modern orchestra, and with crisp phrasing, their interpretation came as a revelation, with none of the saccharine aftertaste left by modern-instrument (and romanticized) performances. It was here quick, tangy, refreshing, even a bit libidinal. Pushed by violinist Krause, they played it like opera accompaniment, where the Romanza movement sounded like an aria for a nighttime balcony serenade scene. The concluding Rondo held a diabolical, Don Giovannish edge.

Telemann’s Canonic Sonata in G, No. 1, for two violins, featured bold Krause and supportive Post, in tight rapport.

Krause returned for what became the highlight of the show: the Prelude from Bach’s Partita No. 3 for solo violin. Yowza, I didn’t know she was this good. Her Bach was technically polished, imaginative, personal, theatrical, and she balanced wonderfully the overlapping voices, giving each its proper weight while holding together the larger flow of the music. The audience gave her an immediate and sustained standing O, much deserved.

Cellist O’Neil cut a more modest profile, although he was solid for a prelude and a gigue from the Bach solo cello suites.

A fine reading of Haydn’s “The Lark” String Quartet (Op. 64, No. 5) ended the show. Although New Trinity does very well by classical-era composers, we can get that repertoire from other local groups, including the mighty Atlanta Symphony. New Trinity’s next concert comes Oct. 30 with Handel’s delicious Italian cantatas — vital repertoire untouched by any other local group.

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