Ensemble members bring style to Baroque classics

A symphony of unique sounds and performance styles filled the USF Barness Recital Hall on Sunday night during a performance by the Bay Baroque Ensemble, which brought in historical instruments and classic Baroque pieces.

The leading ensemble in the Tampa Bay area treated more than 100 guests to a night of music that featured works by 17th and 18th century composers such as Tomaso Albinoni and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The ensemble featured organizer John Robison, a professor of musicology and director of the Early Music Ensemble at USF. Robison is known for his performances on plucked string, bowed string and woodwind instruments.

Robison wasted no time making the performance more personal and less formal. Standing beside guest violinist Patrick Baran, he explained why their creative attire included matching fish ties.

These help us when practicing our scales, Robison said. They also help by giving us better herring.

Robison played Albinonis Concerto in C Major on a Baroque oboe, then switched to recorders for the
following sonatas. Robison said his technique allows him to play about five vibrations higher than most other recorder musicians.

I drilled a small hole in the recorder, and when I want to close it up, I just place a piece of tape over it, he said. Then it becomes a tape recorder.

The musical ensemble of six proceeded to captivate the audience with a variety of uplifting selections, including Georg Philipp Telemanns Sonata in A Minor and Alessandro Scarlattis Sonata in C Major. The music was crisp and vibrant, the kind that makes one want to dust off his or her dancing shoes, adorn a powdered wig and dance the minuet, a popular dance of the 17th century.

Part of Baroque musics classic sound comes from its incorporation of the harpsichord.

Though the harpsichord itself looked like a piece of sky-blue furniture found in ones great-grandmothers
attic, the crisp, clean sound that it produced resembled the cross between a symbol and a bell, and it fit the
Baroque music perfectly.

USF adjunct professor Anne Marie Scotto played it alongside Theresa Villani, who played the viola da gamba, a sort of miniature cello. The two musicians played stride for stride with one another, and their instruments complemented each others so well it was hard to imagine one playing without the other.

While Sotto and Villani set the pace for the ensemble, Nicole Wendl and Patrick Baran accompanied each other on violins. Baran, the orchestra director at Adams Middle School, used a musical approach that seemed to incorporate body motion with the emotional aspect of the music. In contrast, Wendl, a USF graduate student and freelance violinist in Tampa, incorporated a style that was more upright, with a very slight side-to-side sway. Unlike Baran, she seemed to embrace the music with more thought and less body movement.

Kathie Aagaard, a member of the Florida Orchestra, rounded out the field of six during the first Concerto on the viola. Although Aagaards presence in the first half was limited to the first Concerto, she didnt disappoint the audience with her experience and strength on the instrument.

Whereas the entire first half featured sonatas, purely music played, the second half featured a cantata, with sung music. The ensembles choice was Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut by Johann Sebastian Bach, a cantata heavy in religious messages. Maggie Coleman, an accomplished soprano who has performed leading and supporting roles with the Tampa Bay Orchestra, sang the piece.

Coleman sung the lyrics, laced with heartfelt remorse over sinful wrongdoings, in German. Translated, the first verse said, My heart swims in blood because the brood of my sins in Gods holy eyes make me into a monster.

Despite the hardness of German language accompanied by strong and sometimes harsh vocabulary, Coleman delivered to the audience a dose of operatic delicacies that were purposeful, yet soft.

Aside from an afternoon of historical culture, the ensemble came with an added bonus: One could actually hear the individual notes of the music. When compared to a full-fledged orchestra that tends to drown out the individuality of the musical instruments, the ensemble members personalities and musical styles shone through in each piece.