This is what they do best.
“Love and Death in Venice,” presented by Musica Angelica Saturday night at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, was my favorite kind of this historical performance ensemble’s concerts: 11 musicians, all standing except for the continuo, playing a varied program with verve and style.
Three of the big names on the program, and one of the small ones, lived and worked in the city known as La Serenissima, a thriving artistic center in the Baroque era. The program opened with one of Giovanni Gabrieli’s pieces that utilized the famous echo in St. Mark’s, and Cynthia Roberts, Joel Pargman and Janet Worsley Strauss played a sonata of his for three violins near the end of the second half. A super high level of virtuosity and musicianship were displayed throughout the evening.
Two big pieces by Antonio Vivaldi came just before and just after intermission: his “Concerto alla Rustica,” a concerto grosso for the whole ensemble, and a violin concerto, “La Tempesta di Mare,” played by Roberts, who soloed and directed the ensemble on this concert with her supreme artistry. If all you know of Vivaldi is “The Four Seasons,” the latter piece’s format, and even some of the melodic figures, should have seemed familiar.
The third major Venetian composer on the program, Claudio Monteverdi, was represented by a duet from his opera “L’Incoronazione di Poppea,” sung by guest artists Daniel Taylor and Ellen McAteer, both from Canada. Taylor has one of the fullest, richest countertenors I have ever heard, and McAteer has a simply gorgeous voice. Both are specialists in the Baroque style.
Dario Castello is not as well known as those other three, but he was well known in his day as an associate of Monteverdi’s. His freeform “Sonata Seconda” was played with sensitive musicality by Roberts and harpsichordiat Jeremy Joseph, and I liked how they segued directly into this piece from a florid harpsichord toccata by one Alessandro Poglietti, who spent most of his career in Vienna. In this and a piece by Michelangelo Rossi, Joseph, who flew in from Vienna for this concert, showed masterful technique and his harpsichord a beautiful sound.
Then there was Handel. The German composer spent some time in Venice and premiered some of his operas there, but the three vocal works represented on this program all premiered in London. The highlight for me was McAteer’s ravishing performance of “Lascia ch’io pianga,” one of the world’s great tunes. Taylor’s rendition of the furious “Domerò la tua fierezza” from “Giulio Cesare” was virtuosic, and the two combined for two lovely and poignant duets, “Scherzando sul tuo volto” from “Rinaldo” and “Se il cor ti perde” from “Tolomeo,” which ended the concert. The appreciative audience demanded, and got, an encore, “Io t’abbraccio” from another London opera, “Rodelinda.”
Hearing (and seeing) the musicians of Musica Angelica skillfully perform Baroque music is one of the great pleasures of the Long Beach concert scene.