Friday, April 12, 2019

Love and Death in Venice, Via Long Beach

Piazzetta and Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice, by Canaletto.


Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, Long Beach

Gabrieli's tomb, Santo Stefano, Venice.
Venice, La Serenissima, was an important center of arts and culture in the Baroque era. Four of the composers who lived and worked there in the 17th and 18th centuries inspired a concert titled, with a nod to Thomas Mann, "Love and Death in Venice," put on by Musica Angelica the other night at the Beverly O'Neill Theater, part of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center.

Daniel Taylor.
They opened with a piece by one of the foremost of these composers, Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557-1612). His Canzon in echo duodecimi toni à 10 accomodata per concertar con l'organo took advantage, as the title indicates, of the famous echo effects of St. Mark's Cathedral (here, since unlike San Marco the O'Neill unfortunately has no resonance, the echoes were all in the writing and not enhanced by the surroundings), and for this performance we got, instead of "l'organo," a continuo of harpsichord, cello, and violone. The other voci were supplied by six violins and two violas, all standing, and led by concertmaster Cynthia Roberts.

Portrait of Handel by Balthasar
Denner (c.1726-1728).
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), was of German birth, wrote operas for Venice, but those of his operatic works that were represented on this program were all premiered in London, where he settled permanently in 1712. Canadians Daniel Taylor and Ellen McAteer offered some glorious singing, and both are Baroque specialists, fully versed in the style.

Taylor's countertenor voice is as rich and well-rounded as I've ever heard, while McAteer's lyric soprano is simply gorgeous; Lascia, ch'io pianga, one of the great tunes of all time, from Rinaldo (1711 the first Italian opera to be written for the London stage) was ravishing, and for me the highlight of the program. Taylor's ferocious Domerò la tua fierezza, from Giulio Cesare (1724), with its dramatic shifts in vocal register, was virtuosic.

Ellen McAteer.
Elsewhere, the two combined for a couple of Handelian love duets (the "Love" part of the concert's title - I don't know what happened to "Death"), Scherzando sul tuo volto from the aforementioned Rinaldo and Se'il cor ti perde from Tolomeo (1728), and one by another of those Venetians, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): Pur ti miro, pur ti godo from L'Incoronazione di Poppea (1643). The two voices complemented each other nicely, and blended beautifully. At the end of the evening the appreciative audience demanded, and got, an encore, Io t'abbraccio from Handel's Rodelinda (1719).

But first, more Gabrieli. The Canzon Seconda a Quattro involved two violins and viola in addition to the continuo, and a Sonata No. 21 Con Tre featured three of Musica Angelica's terrific violins: Cynthia Roberts herself, plus Joel Pargman and Janet Worsley Strauss.

Jeremy Joseph.
That continuo, by the way, was an extraordinary presence throughout the evening. Harpsichordist Jeremy Joseph had flown in from Vienna for this concert, while cellist Alexa Haynes-Pilon and violone player Denise Briesé are regular members of the group. All are tops in their respective fields, and provided a solid foundation for the music-making. 

Joseph played two solos, on an instrument that possessed a fuller, prettier sound than is usually encountered. The Toccata Settima by one Michelangelo Rossi (c.1601/1602-1656), who spent most of his career in Rome, showed off some of Joseph's masterful technique, while a Toccata by Viennese court organist Alessandro Poglietti (early 17th©-1683), all flourishes and filigree, showed off even more. 

Caricature of Vivaldi by Ghezzi.
The Venetian composer best known to modern audiences is, of course, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). A concerto grosso, the Concerto for Strings in G, RV 151, known as the Concerto alla Rustica, which ended the first half, showed the composer in vigorous good humor, while the violin concerto that began the second half, "La Tempesta di Mare," Op. 8 No. 5, RV 253, bore a striking resemblance, structurally and thematically, to the more famous and equally programmatic The Four Seasons, also from Op. 8. (Maybe Igor Stravinsky's canard about Vivaldi, that instead of writing 400 concertos he wrote one concerto 400 times, isn't such a canard after all.) Cynthia Roberts was the soloist, playing with consummate musicality and technique to burn.

Cynthia Roberts.
So there were three major Venetian composers represented—Gabrieli, Monteverdi, and Vivaldi—and one minor one: Dario Castello (1602-1631). His freeform Sonata Seconda, for violin and harpsichord, gave both Roberts and Joseph yet another, and welcome, opportunity for virtuosic display.

This was a long program, made longer by the usual superfluous welcoming speech from management and lengthy, and not particularly pertinent, introductions to the vocal works by Taylor. But the playing, as is usual from Musica Angelica, was superb, and the music, by composers familiar and unfamiliar, sounded fresh and energetic, was well chosen, varied, and pleasing to aficionados of the early and late Baroque. 


"Love and Death in Venice," Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach, Sunday, March 31, 7:30 p.m.
Images: Venice: Wikimedia Commons; Handel: Wikimedia Commons; Gabrieli: Wikimedia Commons; Vivaldi: Web Gallery of Art; Jeremy Joseph: ClassicSA; Cynthia Roberts: University of North Texas; Daniel Taylor, artist website; Ellen McAteer, artist website

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