As it turned out, the program assembled for the occasion offered an interesting menu that matched music by three German composers (one Dutch-born) against that of four composers of Venice (one relocated to there, one traveling from it).
The Venetian contingent was headed by Mantua-born Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), followed by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677), Antonio Vivaldi (1679-1741) and Anna Bon (c.1739-?). On the German side were Amsterdam-born Johannes Schenk (1660-c.1712), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), and J.S. Bach (1685-1750). As a further feature, this program offered the rare novelty of highlighting two female composers.
Now in its 23rd season, the ensemble is the brainchild of cellist Anton TenWolde. He insists, however, that he is less a director than a "facilitator," coordinating what is a "collective." The participants in the group suggest repertoire that they know and favor, the program thus coming together in shared planning. That factor is evident in the shifting of the spotlight from one to another of the performers, within the ensemble, each able to enjoy segments of prominence.
Mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo, a regular vocalist with the group, had three feature items. These were not predictable "hit-tune" numbers but very sensitively chosen demonstrations of Baroque Italian expressive declamation: two appearances by deities in Monteverdi's opera The Coronation of Poppea and an amazingly emotional lament over absent love by singer-composer Strozzi.
Thus, too, stalwart harpsichordist Max Yount had a totally solo moment in a long and spectacular Prelude to one of Bach's "English Suites." Monica Steger had virtuoso stints on Baroque flute in the Bon and Telemann pieces. TenWolde was featured in a neglected cello sonata by Vivaldi. And the versatile Eric Miller, who is both continuo cellist and soloist on viola da gamba, proved himself truly dexterous in a gamba suite by Schenk, above all in its dazzling final chaconne, and then switched from fingers to lungs on the cornetto in the instrumental sections of the final Monteverdi vocal number.
As always, the members of this group, showed enterprise in selecting their contributions to the program and stylish skill in performing them. The Ensemble is Madison's oldest continuing early-music group, and still is a standard-setter in the field.
This year, the Thanksgiving-weekend program will receive a second airing at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday, Nov. 25, at 3 p.m. That follows a performance by Eliza's Toyes at the Chazen Museum at 12:30 p.m. It's a weekend of particular early-music wealth.