The good news is, there's a new orchestra in town: The Orlando Baroque Orchestra. Some area musicians observed Central Florida's lack of concerts featuring baroque music and stepped up to remedy the situation. We attended the third area performance of their first concert.
The venue was a small church, and we sat in the third pew. The experience of music in such an inimate setting is worlds different from that in a large concert hall, and to my mind significantly more enjoyable. It is not as much fun as making music yourself in a group, but comes closer. For this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert, despite having numerous complaints, most of which had to do with disappointed expectations. But when your experience of baroque orchestras is Boston's Handel and Haydn Society; of lutists is Paul O'Dette; of harpsichordists is Kristian Bezuidenhout; and of oboists is, well, a whole host of marvellous performers; it's difficult not to set yourself up for a fall.
Handel - Arminio Overture
Bach - Suite No. 2 in b minor
Bach - Italian Concerto
Marcello - Oboe Concerto in c minor
Bach - Air on G String
Reymann - Fantasia & Variatio triplae
Vivaldi - Violin Concerto Op. 3 No. 3
The ensemble included four violins, two violas, cello, bass, and harpsichord, and sometimes oboe, recorder, and/or lute.
It took half of the first offering for me to overcome the disappointment of my expectations for the instrumentation. From a baroque orchestra I was expecting baroque instruments. However, even though the orchestra's website states, "Wherever possible we use authentic period instruments...," apparently "possible" does not yet include most of the instruments in the ensemble. In particular, all the bowed strings were modern, with the result that it was difficult if not impossible to hear the lute and the recorder. The cello and bass managed to tone themselves down somewhat by playing very near or often on the fingerboard. The upper strings appeared to be trying to do that now and then, but often forgetting. Violins are the sopranos of the orchestra, and the music is so often "all about them": they soar, they stand out, and—especially in Orlando's difficult Bob Carr Auditorium—they often need to work to be heard. So I can't blame them for playing with all their hearts, and if they'd had period instruments it would have been fine.
The music itself was fun, particularly since I was familiar with much of it. I was greatly looking forward to hearing the Marcello oboe concerto performed on a baroque oboe! So my heart sank when the performer came out with a modern oboe in her hands. She did a creditable job, particularly on the third movement; it was my hope for the baroque oboe that caused the disappointment.
In sum, I wish the Orlando Baroque Orchestra all the best; they are a welcome addition to the Central Florida music scene. I expect that as they gain more experience they will iron out the sound balance problems. And I encourage them to expand their use of baroque instruments. I wouldn't, at this point, call it a baroque orchestra. But it is an orchestra that plays baroque music, to which I say, "Hear, hear!"
Now if we could only get more Renaissance and medieval music here!