When Trevor Pinnock founded The English Concert in 1973, it was one of a wave of period instrument groups. These ensembles endeavor to recapture, as much as possible, the way pieces sounded centuries ago by using instruments in their earlier forms and employing historical performance practice.
There’s no question that modern instruments have more expressive capacity than their ancestors. And that actually helps to explain why Pinnock and his colleagues are attracted to period instruments when they play Baroque music. Pinnock says they can be played “to their limits, without any inhibitions. We can play them using all of their colors because all the colors of the instruments are ideally suited to the music of that period.” When playing modern instruments, he says, you have to hold back.
Pinnock is quick to point out that using period instruments is “not the end-all and be-all. Of course, whatever instruments you choose, the important thing is to make music with those instruments.”
If you’d like to compare period vs. modern instruments:
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert:
Now listen to the Spring concerto performed on modern instruments by Itzhak Perlman and the Israel Philharmonic.
The difference in string sound is due primarily to the material of the strings (wire rather than gut). You may also notice that the pitch is higher. The English Concert played it at Baroque pitch.