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Music review: Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra at AT&T Center

January 29, 2012 |  2:51 pm

A 500-seat auditorium is hidden within the 1965-vintage corporate confines of the 32-story AT&T Center at 12th Street and Olive, an area of downtown Los Angeles that looks desolate at night -– off the charts, as it were.  But when KUSC moved into the AT&T Center in 2010, they saw a possible staging ground for small- to medium-sized groups in this underused hall –- and so on Saturday night, the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra became the first group to try out the facilities.

The hall looks like an artifact of its time –- a gleaming-white, fan-shaped, multipurpose room with maroon-colored theater-type seats –- and sounds rather dry, with hardly any resonance.  Yet the makeshift shell that KUSC erected on the stage did its job well, pushing the sound forward and out to the audience with good balances among the six period instruments and a full bass response.  The voices of a pair of early-music stars -– soprano Emma Kirkby (working with Musica Angelica for the first time) and countertenor Daniel Taylor -– sounded a bit recessed, but they could be heard clearly from a right-center seat toward the stage and farther back on the left.

In other words, it’ll do.

The evening’s main musical lure was J.S. Bach’s little-known setting of Psalm 51 –- which is really a recasting of Pergolesi’s wonderful Stabat Mater. The music is Pergolesi through and through –- with the 20 three-line stanzas of Pergolesi’s text corresponding with Bach’s -– but with an added Bach viola part that gives the texture a bit of contrapuntal heft here and there.  It’s a startling if tamer premonition of what Stravinsky would do with Pergolesi’s (and others’) music in “Pulcinella” about 180 years later, but then, what didn’t Bach anticipate?

Kirkby and Taylor played skillfully off each other, blended attractively in thirds, and soloed in Bach/Pergolesi and in selections from Handel’s “Solomon,” “Alceste,” “Judas Maccabeus” and “Theodora.” Elsewhere, Martin Haselböck led lively, clipped-phrased renditions of Handel’s Concerto Grosso Opus 6, No. 7, and Trio Sonata Opus 2, No. 6, from the harpsichord.


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 -– Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Martin Haselböck, at keyboard, and members of Musica Angelica, soprano Emma Kirkby, third from right, and countertenor Daniel Taylor, second from right, performing Bach's Psalm 51. Credit: Bart Young