Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sort of a Christmas Concert in Long Beach

The Adoration of the Shepherds (1689), by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690).


Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, "A Baroque Christmas," Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach

Martin Haselböck.
What is a Christmas concert, anyway?

Back where I come from, it means a concert made up of music related to the holiday. For Martin Haselböck, the music director of Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, it evidently means music that could possibly, maybe, have been performed in the 1700s in December.

That explains the program for Musica Angelica's so-called Christmas concert, "A Baroque Christmas," at the Beverly O'Neill Theater; only one piece was expressly designed for the holiday. Come to think of it, only half the concert featured music from the Baroque era. As my kids say, whatevs.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
The one Baroque Christmas thing was the Kyrie from the Messe de Minuit pour Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), dating from around 1690. I love the piece, much of which is based on traditional French carols, and it was a pleasure to hear it professionally, and authentically, performed by these exceptional virtuoso players on period instruments, along with an appropriately reduced contingent from the Long Beach Camerata Singers, all led from the organ by Haselböck. Maybe next year they'll do the whole Mass.

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Haselböck made his bones as an organist before turning to conducting, and held the position of Court Organist in Vienna for many years. The Organ Concerto Op. 4 No. 4 in F Major, HWV 292 by George Frideric Handel provided an opportunity for him to display his exceptional talents; actually the entire program featured his keyboard wizardry, either as soloist or continuo player, on a nicely sized and attractive sounding Baroque organ. One striking feature of the Handel concerto, composed in 1735, is the choral finale Alleluia, here beautifully executed by the Camerata. They had been prepared for this concert, obviously well, by associate conductor Tammi Alderman.

Robin Johannsen.
More Handel, the motet Saeviat Tellus inter rigores, HWV 240, from around 1707, was sung by soprano Robin Johannsen. Although her steely tone was not immediately attractive, the fiendish coloratura held no terrors for her, and she sang with varied and intense expression. Alas, the printed program contained no texts or translations, which might have let the audience know what Ms. Johannsen was being so expressive about in this unfamiliar piece.

Joseph Haydn in 1770.
After intermission, we turned to the Classical era. The Allegro from the early (1756) Concerto in C Major, Hob. XVIII:1 by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), published as a work for piano or harpsichord, featured more of Haselböck’s fancy organ fingerwork, and the Sanctus and Benedictus from the same composer's Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, Hob. XXII:7 (c. 1775), known as the Little Organ Mass, brought all hands on deck: the Camerata and Musica Angelica in the Sanctus, and Haselböck and Johannsen in the Benedictus. Again, some day we may hear the whole thing.

Mozart, c.1780: detail from a
painting by Johann Nepomuk
della Croce.
Then there were three familiar choral/vocal pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). For some reason, the orchestra sounded uncharacteristically raw and unbalanced in the introduction to the exquisite Laudate dominum, from the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K. 339, from 1780, but played much more mellifluously in that miraculous little gem, Ave verum corpus., K. 618, from Mozart's last year. Actually, the latter performance, like the piece, was, and here’s a word I don’t use often, perfect.

Johannsen closed with Exsultate jubilate, K. 165 (1773), and again had no trouble with the coloratura, let alone the high C in the Alleluia. There were a total of three Alleluias in this concert, in the Handel concerto, the motet, and this one. I half anticipated an encore, that other Hallelujah, which some of the pre-concert publicity erroneously had said would be performed, but it was not to be.

In addition to Haselböck and Johannsen, the other stars of the evening were the oboes, Fabio D’Onofrio and Brenda Gilcher. They were prominent, and had some dazzling virtuoso passages, especially in the Charpentier and the Handel motet.

It may not have been all, or even mostly, Baroque Christmas music, but most of it was at least festive, and it certainly could have, possibly, been performed around Christmas-time in the 18th century.

Merry Christmas.


Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, "A Baroque Christmas," Beverly O'Neill Theater, Long Beach
Friday, December 13 at 8 p.m.
Images: The Adoration of the Magi: Wikimedia Commons; Martin Haselböck: Karen McFarlane Artists Inc.; Charpentier: Wikimedia Commons; Handel: BBC; Robin Johannsen: Tatjana Dachsel; Haydn: Wikimedia Commons; Mozart: Wikimedia Commons.

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