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It's simply out of this New World

The period group Musica Angelica brings to life seldom-heard Baroque compositions linked to the Americas.

September 14, 2004|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Puritan and Colonial American literature and music add up to a stiff-necked affair, a raw imitation of sophisticated British models. But New World Baroque music by Mexican, Spanish and Peruvian composers needs no apology. It is glorious.

Discovery after happy discovery of this rarely heard music, composed mostly in the 18th century, surfaced Sunday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in a program by the enterprising Los Angeles period group Musica Angelica.

Violinists Janet Worsley-Strauss and Tekla Cunningham, cellist Benjamin Wyatt, Baroque guitarists Craig Russell and John Schneiderman, and sopranos Maria Jette and Rachelle Fox captivated the audience. Russell also gave lively introductions from the stage, drawing parallels between contemporary pop and music theater composers and these New World masters.

At the intimate end of the scale, Schneiderman played two fetching sonatas by Juan Antonio Vargas y Guzman, a Spaniard who settled in Mexico. On a more grand level, Jette sang the elegant, pure-lined "Tibi Cherubim," a section of a Te Deum by Italian composer Ignacio de Jerusalem, who in 1750 became chapel master of the Mexico City Cathedral.

But perhaps the happiest discovery of the evening was the joyous Gloria from the "Misa en Sol" by Juan Bautista Sancho, a Spaniard who made California his home in the early 1800s. This fascinating work, sung with fervor and abandon by Jette and Fox, received its contemporary Los Angeles premiere in an edition by Russell.

The program also included music by Mexican composer Manuel de Sumaya, Spaniard-turned Mexican Santiago de Murcia and native Peruvian Jose de Orejon y Aparicio.

Italy was represented by Arcangelo Corelli -- because, said Russell, he was the most performed Baroque composer in the Americas.

Proof lies in the stacks of his music in the Mexico City Cathedral and in Mexico City's National Library. His challenging "Follia," Opus 5, No. 12, a set of variations on a recurring series of chords, received a virtuoso performance by Worsley-Strauss, Wyatt, Russell and Schneiderman.

The musicians dedicated the program to their late artistic director, Michael Eagan, who conceived it before his death Aug. 9.

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