As with its last concert, in late November, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble drew a capacity audience at the old Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park Sunday afternoon -- and an enthusiastic audience, too. Whether by intent or circumstance, the group's program was mainly focused on the music of two composers, Claudio Monteverdi (1567- 1643) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), who lived approximately parallel lifespans, a century apart.
Telemann contributed a kind of backbone to the proceedings. One of his was the Quatuor No. 3 in G major from the so-called "Paris Quartets" of 1738 -- chamber suites in the French style written for flute, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo. This one's seven movements were divided into two packets, four given in the first half of the program, the other three in the second half. Telemann was also represented by a solo "Cantata for the New Year," allowed as a showcase for a particularly welcome visitor. Wisconsin-born countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf did his undergraduate studies at the UW Music School, and has left memories of his performances here. He has gone on to further training and a budding career of nationwide scope. It was very gratifying to hear how his voice and artistry have been honed and refined in the interim.
One other composer was slipped in, the musician-churchman-diplomat Agostino Steffani (1654-1767), famous in his day not only for full-scale operas but also as master of the miniature form of vocal duets. One of these, on the recurrent theme of unhappy love, was performed by Pagenkopf in tandem with WBE's veteran soprano, Mimmi Fulmer.
But the recurrent thread of the program was provided by a total of four madrigals by Monteverdi in his innovative "concertato" style combining singers and instrumentalists. In this case, they were for two singers and continuo, which allowed our two vocal soloists to join in more handsome duetting. They particularly reveled in the virtuosic challenges and opportunities of "Zefiro torna," a vivid contemplation of freshly arrived spring by an unhappy lover. And, as an encore, joined by more players, our delightful duo romped through "Damigella tutta bella", a vigorous dance song based on the irregular ottonario hemiola rhythm that Monteverdi used for special expression of the full joy of life.
But, before that, as the official last number on the program, our singers gave us the duet that concludes Monteverdi's last opera, The Coronation of Poppea, an astonishing three-part piece of sexual explicitness -- groping foreplay, propulsive orgasm, and post-coital caressing. If our super-moralistic politicians were cultured enough to know what this X-rated duet is all about, they would secure an Act of Congress to ban it.
Yes, folks, early music can be hot stuff! And the WBE audience relished it fully in this wonderful concert. And the group will be returning, same stand, on Oct. 14 next.