Attending a concert by the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble is like going to the parlor of a half-dozen old friends to hear them share unusual repertoire that they enjoy experiencing together. The austere but reliable interior of the Gates of Heaven is always an admirable music parlor, and was so again at the group's winter concert on Sunday.
There were seven items on the program. With one 17th-century exception, all were the work of composers active in the 18th century, mostly in its first half or middle. Georg Philipp Telemann won the trophy for fullest representation: three pieces. Vivaldi and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach each had a single slot, as did also the less-familiar Johann Gottfried Müthel.
Generally, each of the performers had a display work, sustained by basso continuo (with one exception). Two performers had two such pieces. The sprightly Brett Lipshutz, dynamic master of the wooden flute, had a one sonata with continuo (Müthel) plus one fantasia for unaccompanied flute (Telemann). Mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo had one of Telemann's devotional cantatas (with Theresa Koenig adding recorder obbligato), but truly outdid herself in Monteverdi's free and expressive Lettera amorosa. For viola da gamba player Eric Miller, there was a long sonata by C.P.E. Bach with a fabulously demanding second movement that he brought off (from memory) with extraordinary virtuosity. And cellist Anton TenWolde completed this time his exploration of three cello sonatas by Vivaldi that survive only in manuscript.
To round things off, Koenig and Miller played the two melody parts in a trio sonata by Telemann.
Through almost everything, basso continuo support was provided by the ever-reliable team of TenWolde (or Miller, in one substitution) and harpsichordist Max Yount. The latter had no solo piece of his own, but he contributed some truly artful embellishments at crucial points, especially in the Vivaldi cello sonata.
Not too many people seemed phased by the bad weather, and the quite substantial audience was warm in its responses. The Ensemble has been in business now for 23 years, as Madison's first and still-vital trailblazer in exploring Baroque music. Its members are confident and skillful artists, and their concerts are among the gems of Madison's rich cultural life -- a fact all too easily taken for granted.