Music Review: Music City Baroque plays Telemann’s music Telemann’s way

Music City Baroque drew a healthy crowd on a rainy Sunday afternoon for their concert of Telemann chamber music at Woodmont Christian Church. Telemann was considered Germany’s greatest composer during the first half of the 18th century. (I wonder if the Music City Post Modern Ensemble will be playing Nico Muhly and Johnny Greenwood in 2414?)

telemann1The performers were all familiar to Nashville audiences, since they were drawn from the Nashville Symphony, and from the faculty rosters of the Blair School of Music, Middle Tennessee State University and Belmont University.

The two most successful performances were “Wandelt in der Liebe” for mezzo-soprano and flute, and the Trio Sonata in D minor.  Both shone with brilliant clarity and emotion.  The combination of mezzo-soprano with wooden flute surprised me.  The resonances of the two “instruments” gave life to a remarkable texture. Mareike Sattler’s creamy open vowels merged with Jessica Dunnavant’s flute tones into a unified wash of harmonics.  If this is what it sounded like in Germany in the 1700s, it’s no wonder we sing German music to this day.

The Trio in D minor closed the program and displayed the technical brilliance of this small ensemble.  Man! It moved. It was in tune. I was impressed.

There were pitch issues during the Grave movement of the Trio in F major “Corelliasante.” More likely than not, the movement was a casualty of catgut strings and a rainy afternoon. Once we got to the jaunting Allegro, most problems disappeared.

The Quartet in E minor “Paris” was awesome. We were really in a different sonic world – again the wooden flute had a marked impact in the timbre of the ensemble. Imagine a medieval recorder/lute track in the banquet scene of a TV show combined with a Vivaldi string quartet, and you get an idea of the unique timbre of this ensemble.

These works have remained in the repertoire for a reason. It’s not the “historically accurate” ornaments and trills. Nor it is the scales and harmonic innovations. It’s the sound.  These instruments, when playing these notes in a reverberant room, combine to create a special palette of sounds that aren’t really achievable anywhere else.

Even the pitch and timing things are part of the aural palette.  We kid ourselves if think that these weren’t present in Telemann’s time.  The tempered scale had barely been invented, pianos were still in keys, and the machine-age refinements that perfected the flute, trumpet and clarinet hadn’t happened yet.  It’s not unlike the vinyl vs CD argument: Yes, vinyl has naturally occurring sonic flaws that CDs lack, but those are part of the reason vinyl sounds completely different from CDs.  In a town suddenly concerned with human authenticity in its music, Music City Baroque stands by – ready to be embraced by us all.

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About Kyle J. Baker

Kyle J. Baker is a Nashville-based composer and impresario most known for directing Nashville's Soundcrawl Festival. He composes for acoustic and digital forces with a recurring emphasis on rhythmic post-minimal structures. Classical in heritage, but vernacular in vocabulary, his music has garnered such attention as 2008 Belmont University Composition Prize, Honorable Mention in the 2008 Pathways Young Band Composition Contest as well as distribution by, His notable teachers include Ken Read, John LaBarbara, Delfeayo Marsalis and William Pursell. Born in Scotland and raised in St. Louis, Baker holds an M.Mus from Belmont University and makes his home in Cane Ridge, Tenn. with his wife Joy and cat Lili.