Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Baroque Conversation by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

by Douglas Neslund

Finding an intimate space in Zipper Concert Hall in Colburn School opposite Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra recently offered the first in a series called “Baroque Conversations,” a brilliant concept of period education sandwiched around a concert, with each item introduced with humor by oboist extraordinaire Allan Vogel. Providing instrumental contributions were Margaret Batjer, violin; Patricia Mabee, portative organ and harpsichord; Armen Ksajikian, cello; Andrew Shulman, cello; David Shostac, flute; Janice Tipton, flute and soprano; and Allan Vogel, oboe. All participants are well-established musicians, and played with delightful elegance and appropriate period ornamentation.

Guest artist Elissa Johnston, soprano, collaborated in six Bachian selections, favoring rich tone and nuanced expression over textual considerations, making the published texts in the evening’s program helpful. Ms. Johnston’s soaring soprano excels in the upper atmosphere, although low-lying notes tended to get lost in the accompaniment. Ms. Johnston’s program:
  • From Cantata No. 199: “Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen”
  • From Cantata No. 208: “Schafe können sicher weiden”
  • From BWV 508 (Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach): “Bist du bei mir” (which was actually composed by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel)
  • From Cantata No. 115: “Bete aber auch dabei”
  • From BWV 248 (Christmas oratorio): “Flößt, mein Heiland”
  • From Cantata No. 68: “Mein gläubiges Herze”
The above items ranged widely in emotion, from grief to consolation, from release to conviction, from light-hearted (and witty) satisfaction to joyful expression and banishment of complaint. The requisite “echo” voice in "Flößt, mein Heiland" was performed by Ms. Tipton, in what might have been her professional vocal debut. Mr. Ksajikian adroitly maneuvered his four-string cello around the five-string demands of "Mein gläubiges Herze," all at presto speed.

The delightful recital, which was well appreciated by a nearly full house, opened with a graceful Gavotte and Gigue from Mystery Sonata No. 13 (“Pentecost”) by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, whose music, Mr. Vogel opined, may well have been heard by the very young Johann Sebastian Bach. This was followed by brilliant keyboard artistry by Ms. Mabee performing Bach's own Toccata in D Minor (BWV913). Bach’s Trio Sonata in G major (BWV 1038) provided an excellent contrast in four movements midway through Ms. Johnston’s offerings. All parties to the recital met onstage to close with Bach’s final composition, “Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit” (BWV 668a), which was preceded by Canons from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079.

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