By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Martin Hasselbck, conductor
Dame Emma Kirkby,
soprano; Daniel Taylor, counter tenor
Mater; music by Handel
Saturday, January 28, 2012 AT&T Center Theatre
Today at 3 p.m. First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica
During the past 19 years, Musica Angelica has gained
widespread renown as a period-instrument ensemble (i.e., its members play
Baroque and other early music on instruments that are either original to the
time or replicas of same). In addition to its own series, the group has made
national and international tours and recordings. On March 31 and April 1, the
full orchestra will accompany the Los Angeles Master Chorale in performances of
Bach’s St. John Passion at Walt Disney
Last night a sextet of MA musicians presented a stylishly
played program of music by Handel and Bach (the latter by the way of
Pergolesi). The evening also marked the MA debut of British soprano Dame Emma
Kirkby and at the same time introduced to Southern California a new performing
venue: the AT&T Center Theatre.
The 500-seat auditorium was once a VIP screening room for
films of United Artists when that company was owned by Transamerica Corporation
(the office tower in which it is housed was the home of Occidental Life and
other subsidiaries of the conglomerate better known for its pyramid-shaped
headquarters in San Francisco). Photos of old United Artist theaters are in the
performing hall’s entryway.
In the early 1980’s, recounts KUSC host Gail Eichenthal,
Sheila Tepper created the Dame Myra Hess Concerts in this hall, which aired
live on KUSC Wednesdays at noon. Topper showcased up and coming young
instrumentalists; the audience consisted largely of office workers.
In 2010, KUSC joined several USC departments that now occupy
the office and eventually convinced the building’s owners to make some
acoustical renovations (most importantly the addition of a shell) that would
turn the auditorium a viable concert hall. Last night was the first performance
since those alterations; KUSC hosted the evening.
From seats in the middle of the hall for the first half and
the back of the hall for the second, the sound carried well (carpet on the
floor does dampen the resonance). Kirkby, countertenor Daniel Taylor and six
accompanying instrumentalists were clearly heard throughout the performance.
Both Kirkby, who was made a Dame Commander of the Order of
the British Empire in 2007 and received the Queen’s Medal for Music last June,
and Taylor, who made his MA debut last year after a significant list of credits
in England, have long and distinguished careers in the field of early music and
they affirmed those credentials last night.
The first half featured arias and duets from Handel’s Alceste, Solomon and Judas Maccabeus. Kirkby delivered clean,
nicely oramented lines and Taylor blended skillfully during his contributions.
Music Director Martin Hasselbck on harpsichord led a sextet of
instrumentalists — Ila Korol and Cynthia Roberts, violins; Robert Diggins,
viola; Ezra Seltzer, violoncello; and Curtis Daily, bass — that accompanied the
singers sensitively and, on their own, offered spritely performances of
Handel’s Concerto Grosso in B-flat major, Op. 6, No. 7, HWV 325, and Trio
Sonata in G major, Op. 2, No. 6, HWB 391.
After intermission, the entire ensemble presented
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater — except
that it wasn’t. Instead, Hasselbck used the version that Johann Sebastian Bach
refashioned near the end of his life. A Stabat
Mater being a no-go at Bach’s German Lutheran church, he grafted a
paraphrase of Psalm 51 onto Pergolesi’s music, which Bach reordered to suit the
new text and added a new viola part to the score, among other changes.
The resulting work (37 minutes last night) maintained the Stabat Mater’s format of 20 couplets but
Bach placed them into several larger sections that were sumptuously sung by
Kirkby and Taylor. Each of the singers got two solo portions and the others
were duets. Having warmed up and discovered some of the intricacies of the new
hall, Kirkby and Taylor both conveyed the texts expressively and sang with
delicate point and florid ornamentation. The ensemble (with Hasselbck playing
a positiv organ), again accompanied sensitively.
The group encored with a poignant rendition of a duet from
the second act of Handel’s Theodora.
Although the singers projected adequately, I would have
welcomed printed texts for the Handel portions (the German texts for the Bach
were printed, along with translations).
The hall’s management created a welcoming atmosphere for
concertgoers. Signage was plentiful and security officers were polite and
helpful both coming and going. There was also plenty of inexpensive parking
Musica Angelica will return to the AT&T Center Theatre
on Feb. 18 for a selection of Bach Wedding Cantatas. That program will repeat
the next afternoon at First Pres., Santa Monica. Information: www.musicaangelica.org
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.