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Always in Season

Chorale's rendition of 'Christmas Oratorio' offered to honor Bach.

October 06, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Never mind that the Ventura Master Chorale is opening its season on a seemingly unseasonable note, with Bach's "Christmas Oratorio." The significant element here is the Bach factor. The concert, suitably framed in the Ventura Mission, will be an important local component of a sweeping, global celebration of the 250th anniversary of the death of the great--the greatest?--composer.

Ventura's response to the Bach year has been surprisingly timid, although next spring's Ventura Chamber Music Festival will accent Bach's work.

Generally in the music world, though, Bach lovers are enjoying saturation.

Teldec has released the ambitious "Bach 2000" package, surveying the composer's entire existing output (much of his music is lost) on 153 CDs. What might seem extravagant, not to mention forbiddingly expensive to the consumer, is a valuable cultural endeavor.

For this Sunday's concert, the Master Chorale will collaborate with the proper instrumental forces, the widely respected Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra.

Founded by Gregory Maldonado in 1985, the orchestra performs on period instruments and will no doubt do justice to the oratorio, whose large orchestral part is integral to the whole. Soloists will be baritone James Kenney, soprano Jill Guth, alto Linda Foster and tenor Kenneth Helms.

As for its seemingly premature seasonal connection, the oratorio is, in a sense, always in season. Bach wrote the "Christmas Oratorio," often deemed one of his great choral works, alongside the Mass in B minor and the Passions, in 1734. As with much of his writing during the period in Leipzig, he based most of its material on earlier secular compositions, known as "parodies."

It's a reworking of secular cantatas written for royalty, woven into a piece celebrating various holidays. In effect, the work is a series of cantatas and affords performers--and listeners--ample challenge and reward.

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DETAILS

Ventura Master Chorale with the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra at 4 p.m. Sunday at the San Buenaventura Mission, 211 E. Main St. in Ventura; tickets $15-20; 653-7282.

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Other Choral News: As it turns out, this weekend also boasts the kickoff program for Los Robles Master Chorale. Its focus is on beloved snippets from opera repertoire, gathered in a program called "Bravo! Opera's Greatest Moments."

We get too little operatic action in Ventura County, so even piecemeal action is something to take note of. Expect to hear bits from Puccini's "Tosca," Strauss' "Die Fledermaus," Handel's "Alcina," Gounod's "Faust" and Verdi's "La Traviata," among others.

The list of vocalists includes soprano Marilyn Anderson (a Moorpark College professor and founder of its Musical Theater/Opera program), soprano Karen Winner Huff, tenor David Newton and baritone John Ross.

Between the two chorales in the area, we have a healthy degree of exposure to passionately delivered choral music.

The Los Robles season gets more ambitious as it goes on, including a December concert with Paul Patterson's "Magnificat" and John Rutter's "Brother Heinrich's Christmas." On March 3, the group will be conducted by Paul Salamunovich, the noted director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, in a performance of Faure's Requiem and a standard-in-the-making, Morton Lauridsen's recent "Lux Aeterna."

On the Ventura Master Chorale side, the new season will include Amy Beach's Mass in E flat on March 4 and a premiere of chorale member Kenneth Helms' own Requiem on June 10. Voices will be raised in song, aplenty.

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DETAILS

Los Robles Master Chorale at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Moorpark College Performing Arts Center, 7075 Campus Road. Tickets are $10 for students, $14 for seniors and $18 for general admission; 497-0386.

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Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com.

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