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MUSIC REVIEW

Bach a joy in vibrant voice

October 10, 2005|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

The hottest item in Bach scholarship in recent years has been the argument that the composer's original choir typically consisted only of a vocal quartet or quintet, with the singers also responsible for any solos and duets. People used to the big, fat sound of a chorus numbering at least 18 or 20 singers -- not to mention upward of 120 or more voices, as we often hear -- find the assertion unbelievable.

Musica Angelica's performance of three Bach cantatas Friday at Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School of Performing Arts would convince any doubters. Under the enlightened direction of Martin Haselbock, the local baroque orchestra's new music director, soprano Jennifer Ellis, countertenor Carlos Mena, tenor Gerald Gray and bass Curtis Streetman filled the resonant hall with vibrant, thrilling sound, especially when the vocal lines were doubled by the superb instrumental players.

The topics were the joyful welcoming of Christ into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passion Week ("Himmelskonig, sei willkommen" -- "King of Heaven, be Thou welcome," BWV 182), the stunned observation of Christ healing a deaf-mute ("Geist und Seele wird verwirret" -- "Soul and spirit are bewildered," BWV 35) and the injunction to practice charity ("Brich dem hungrigen dein Brot" -- "Break with hungry men thy bread," BWV 39).

The singers delivered the texts with clarity and the vocal lines, however complicated, with expression. Mena was outstanding in the demanding solo cantata "Geist und Seele."

Concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock, cellist Phoebe Carrai, recorder player Judith Linsenberg and organist Charles Sherman contributed splendid obbligato parts. Haselbock was the delightful organ soloist in "Geist und Seele," conducting from the keyboard. But the whole ensemble was a joy to hear in this season-opening concert.

The singers and players performed "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" from Cantata No. 147 as an encore. Haselbock dedicated it from the stage to Musica Angelica founder Michael Eagan, who died unexpectedly in 2004. It was a sensitive and classy tribute to his predecessor.

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