Handel’s “What passion cannot Music raise and quell!,” from the Ode to St. Cecelia, sung by soprano Penelope Jensen, provided a spectacular opener for a January 17 concert, given in UNC’s Person Recital Hall. The program was presented by Brent Wissick, President of the Viola da Gamba Society, and attended by Society board members from across the country. The entire ensemble was involved in the accompaniment, beginning with a suspenseful cello solo played by Wissick. Joining him were Elaine Funaro, harpsichord, Ruth Johnsen, baroque violin, and Stephanie Vial, baroque cello. Funaro’s harpsichord, placed in front of the tracker organ pipes, provided a beautiful background while its action facilitated her dependable continuo, notwithstanding recent weather conditions, which can challenge these instruments.

Wissick used three instruments during the evening – a Baroque cello, a violoncello piccolo, and, for the final number, Handel’s Tra le fiamme , given in honor of the Viola da Gamba Society, a viola da gamba. He explained that the viola da gamba is not related to the violin but to the lute family and has seven strings. He happened to be playing with six strings, however; apparently one was missing. He demonstrated how the piccolo cello was historically played held horizontally, high under the chin, but he did not play it that way on this occasion. The attractive program contained texts and translations but no printed notes.

The ensemble members need no introduction to area aficionados of chamber music, so this report will be brief. Suffice it to say that it was, as expected from these participants, as close to perfection as chamber concerts get. Jensen’s voice was particularly well placed in the intimacy of Person Hall. The intricacy of the vocal requirements was never apparent, as her performance appeared to be effortless. Her gorgeous vocal tones were always exciting.

The other composers featured on the program were colleagues or contemporaries of Handel: Andrea Caporale (fl. 1735-46), Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747), Nicola Haym (1678-1729), Salvatore Lanzetti (1710-80), Filippo Amadei (fl. 1690-1730), and Giacobo Basevi Cervetto (c.1682-1783).

The recitative “Tremolante” and the aria “Spesso mi sento dir” from Handel’s The Jasmine, a cantata entitled Son Gelsomino in the original language, was outstanding. It concluded the section prior to intermission. Jensen excelled as the ensemble supported her, filling the colonial green room with an aura of excellence.

Wissick noted that the cantata Partenza di G.B. featured one of Handel’s recycled tunes, also used in his Julius Caesar. Jensen and the ensemble “recycled” it in their own strict baroque performance to our delight.

The cantata Tra le fiamme, consisting of a recitative (“Si, si”) and aria (“Voili per l’aria”), was the finale. It included the entire ensemble, with emphasis on the word “ensemble,” which they exemplify in performance. The translation reads “Si, si. Indeed, it is sadly true that flying is foolish. There have been many like Icarus, but only one Daedalus…. Leave flight to those who can fly. Let them skim lightly over land and sea, always coming and going. Man can still fly on wings of fancy, which is more sublime than any feathers.” Given the current interest in flight in this centennial year, these thoughts from long ago were thought provoking.