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A whirlwind tour of the Baroque

Dominique Labelle's voice gilds Musica Angelica's performance.

December 03, 2007|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Music director Martin Haselbock promised a one-evening musical tour all around the Baroque era, and that's pretty much what Musica Angelica offered Saturday night at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall.

Six composers -- three per program half -- were represented, with the two German anchors of the period, J.S. Bach and Handel, providing the closing work of each half. For the sake of selling this as a holiday program, two so-called Christmas concertos symmetrically occupied the middle portions of both halves. Some big names -- the Scarlattis, Pergolesi, the ubiquitous Vivaldi, etc. -- were missing, but many of them will turn up elsewhere in the Musica Angelica season.

For all intents and purposes, though, the evening mostly belonged to the marvelous Canadian guest soprano Dominique Labelle, who produced an effortless, golden flow of vocal sound. She soared gloriously in Handel's joyous, recently authenticated Gloria for soprano, violins and basso continuo, articulating the florid melismas clearly and cohesively.

In lieu of an announced Alessandro Scarlatti aria, Labelle inserted a short, graceful, zesty work by Antonio Caldara, "Haec est regina virginum," sailing through the tricky rhythmic passages with ease. In league with the agile Baroque trumpet of Martin Patscheider, Labelle's voice remained stable and luminous throughout the concluding Bach Cantata No. 51 -- which, though not a Christmas piece per se, is threatening to become a holiday standard anyway.

On its own, Musica Angelica led off the evening with Telemann's Concerto in D for violin, trumpet, strings and continuo, highlighted by Patscheider's handling of the martial passages of the first movement and violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock's sense of energetic fun during the perpetual-motion solos in the finale.

Known to catalogers as Corelli's Concerto Grosso Opus 6, No. 8, and Manfredini's Concerto Grosso Opus 3, No. 12, the two "Christmas" concertos are easily the composers' most popular works, with discographies listing even versions by pre-period-performance icons such as Herbert von Karajan and Bruno Walter. Yet the relaxed, almost meditative lilt of the Nativity scenes sounded rather dreary in Musica Angelica's somewhat scrappy-sounding performances -- and one's mind wandered dangerously, wondering whether the old musicologically incorrect maestros would have captured the mood more effectively.

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