The holidays took on a distinctly Spanish flavor this past weekend, with Seattle Baroque's "Scarlatti in Madrid" program — one of the most charming and intimate concerts of...

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The holidays took on a distinctly Spanish flavor this past weekend, with Seattle Baroque’s “Scarlatti in Madrid” program — one of the most charming and intimate concerts of the season.

Here were expert performances of unusual repertoire, much of it high-spirited and colorful. Here also were beautiful and elegant combinations of instruments: baroque guitar, baroque harp, viola da gamba, period strings and harpsichord.

The instruments used and their provenance were listed in the program, just a part of the informative and entertaining notes on the concert.

Music director/baroque violinist Ingrid Matthews took the lead in a concerto by Domenico Scarlatti, with surprisingly robust accompaniment from Christa Patton (baroque harp), Lucas Harris (baroque guitar), Margriet Tindemans (viola da gamba) and Byron Schenkman (harpsichord).

The sound was big enough, in fact, that it almost overbalanced Matthews’ nimble and mellow violin sound.

Schenkman took a virtuoso turn in a harpsichord concerto by Carlos de Seixas and later tackled three of the more than 550 harpsichord sonatas by Scarlatti. Brightly colored, vividly rhythmical, these are pieces to thrill, and Schenkman gave them their full due in performances full of stylish alacrity.


Seattle Baroque, “Scarlatti in Madrid”; Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, yesterday.

The acoustics of the Nordstrom Recital Hall proved perfect for a celestial combination of baroque harp and baroque guitar. Patton and Harris chose four pieces “arranged according to period sources,” each displaying the instruments as ideal foils for each other. The sound was so rich and so varied that the ear wanted more.

Unfortunately, the Nordstrom acoustics also made clear some disadvantages of bringing babies and toddlers to such a quiet and intimate concert.

Expecting children younger than preschool age to sit silently for two hours of baroque music is not realistic, and other nearby ticketholders paid the price for those expectations.

The evening’s pièce de résistance was the seldom-heard Christmas Cantata of Alessandro Scarlatti (Domenico’s father), or, to give it its full title, the “Cantata Pastorale per la Nativita di Nostro Signore Gesu Cristo.”

This tuneful work is a series of recitatives and arias for soprano (the clear-voiced Melissa Fogarty) with instrumental accompaniment, incorporating melodies associated with Italian Christmas traditions.

The real scene-stealer, however, was the short performance beforehand on the Italian bagpipe by harpist Patton, a delightful surprise that brought down the house.