For the first concert of its 2012-13 season, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble presented a program of works by Italian and French composers Saturday evening at at the Gates of Heaven. Each half of the program included works for vocal trio that framed a large piece for low stringed instrument.
The Italian half opened with two selections from Monteverdi's Seventh Book of Madrigals, which is composed in the "concertato" style for voices with instruments (here, continuo bass). Its texts speak of tormented love. By contrast, this half's closing item was one of those portraits of desperate love among the shepherds of Arcadia that was so beloved by Italian Baroque audiences. The composer of this work, Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari (1677-1754), is a truly forgotten master. A celebrated composer of oratorios, he was best known and admired in his time for his vocal duets and trios with continuo. This piece, "Si lodi pur Amore," is a fine example of his clever ensemble writing.
These vocal works were sung by sopranos Mimmi Fulmer and Consuelo Sañudo, Ensemble regulars, joined by countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf, a product of the UW Music School who's now based in Boston. Their lovely voices blended handsomely in very carefully coordinated ensemble singing.
Between Monteverdi and Clari, Anton TenWolde played Vivadi's four-movement Cello Sonata in G minor. It's something of an orphan among his other solo works for this instrument, thanks to the touches of French style the composer has slipped into it.
For the second -- or French -- half of the program, the framing vocal works were two "petit" sacred motets for three voices and continuo, a "Regina coeli" and the Psalm "Dixit Dominus" by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), the founder of the French Baroque style (though he was born a Florentine!). The three singers made a strong effort to sing the Latin words with the Gallicized pronunciation that would have been used in France back then (and, to some extent, now).
Those motets divided to frame a seven-movement suite of pieces for viol by the great French master of that instrument, Marin Marais (1656-1728). The music is virtuosic and stylistically demanding, and gambist Eric Miller pulled it off heroically. He also played cello continuo for TenWolde earlier, while TenWolde did the honors for him here. The ever-reliable harpsichordist Max Yount was a constant presence throughout the program.
This was another satisfying appearance by this durable linchpin group of early-music specialists. Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will repeat this program Sunday, Oct. 14.