By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Musica Angelica; Martin Hasselböck, conductor
Dame Emma Kirkby, soprano; Daniel Taylor, counter tenor
Pergolesi/Bach: Stabat Mater; music by Handel
Saturday, January 28, 2012 • AT&T Center Theatre
Next performance: 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 Concert Hall.
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 Hasselböck 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, Hasselböck 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 Hasselböck 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 available.
• 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.