Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra's bid to place itself prominently on the Los Angeles music map paid off handsomely Sunday afternoon at UCLA's Royce Hall with a warm and personal performance of Bach's B-minor mass that reached majestic heights.
Music director Michael Eagan had turned over conducting duties to British guest Harry Bicket, who cannily gauged dynamics and expressivity, keeping the lines alive and full of conviction. Varying the dramatic impact, Bicket used his four strong soloists -- soprano Ellen Hargis, mezzo-soprano Judith Malafronte, tenor Daniel Plaster and bass Curtis Streetman -- to lead in the chorus in the opening Kyrie Eleison, in place of the chorus in the Crucifixus, and as one of the double choruses in the Osanna in Excelsis.
Bicket placed them among the 20 other singers behind the orchestra. They remained there for their solos or duets, although they moved closer together for duets. The obbligato instrumentalists who accompanied them in such cases stood as they played, resulting in a lovely blending of timbres and lines, and a downplaying of operatic soloistic prominence.
Even so, Streetman, placed dead center, thrillingly and rightfully served as the central axis and anchor for the Sanctus, one of the most sublime choruses in Western music.
Incorporating such paragon guests as Elizabeth Blumenstock of San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra as concertmaster, the period-instrument ensemble played with sweetness, richness and balance. The plucked strings were as gentle as lutes. The three trumpets added majesty and color, without any annoying bite. The timpani, built on an 18th century model, added crisp, arresting accents.
Other highlights included the prayerful and humble Gratias Agimus Tibi, which grew in strength as it grew in devotion. The same sequence was repeated in Bach's reuse of the music for the final part of the mass, Dona Nobis Pacem. The entrance of the timpani and brass again raised the emotion to exalted heights.