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MUSIC REVIEW

Holiday bill is a bit unusual, a bit not-so

With the Philharmonic, Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie plays non-standard yet partially familiar Bach.

December 16, 2006|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

BERNARD LABADIE — now apparently a regular commuter to Los Angeles and Orange counties whenever 18th century music is on the docket -- promised an "off-the-beaten-path" holiday program at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night.

Well, yes and no. Yes, in that the usual "Messiahs," Christmas-themed works and such were nowhere to be found -- and of the all-J.S. Bach musical offerings that the Quebec-based conductor served up, only the Magnificat in D had been played before by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On the other hand, the Magnificat is hardly esoteric fare, and Bach mavens were alerted that the Cantata No. 191, "Gloria in excelsis Deo," was later incorporated into the well-known B-Minor Mass.

So Labadie had it both ways -- iconoclastic programming without sacrificing familiarity. On top of that, he decided to do the Magnificat in a hybrid edition, interpolating four deleted "Christmas" numbers from Bach's earlier E-flat version of the Magnificat (transposing the key into D). Musically at least, Bach's decision to delete them was probably right -- or perhaps we are so accustomed to hearing the Magnificat in the standard version that the interpolations, particularly "Von himmel hoch" for a cappella chorus, seem to disrupt the piece's structure and momentum somewhat.

In past appearances this year in our area, Labadie brought along his Quebec ensemble Les Violons du Roy and his choir La Chapelle de Quebec. This time, he combined forces from both sides of the border, La Chapelle de Quebec with members of the Philharmonic. As before, he got the Philharmonic strings to play convincingly in a quasi-period-performance style with swelling attacks and little or no vibrato but with "modern" instruments providing a less-abrasive timbre. In other words, more hybrids.

All of this rampant cross-pollination resulted in brisk, rhythmically bracing, at times exultant performances, with the superb Quebec chorus hanging on tightly to the treacherous melismas in the opening section of the Magnificat, with excellent solo vocal contributions from soprano Mary Wilson, mezzosoprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux, tenor James Taylor and baritone Brett Polegato.

The rarest of the offerings was the 11-movement motet "Jesu, meine Freude" for five-part choir, which has several dramatic, unorthodox pauses and passages of eloquent sadness. Cellist Peter Stumpf and bassist Christopher Hanulik played in unison with the bass vocal part, and Disney Hall itself sorted out the rest of the choral writing with its customary yet still startling clarity.

*

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 tonight, 2 p.m. Sunday

Price: $15 to $135

Contact: (323) 850-2000; www.laphil.com

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