The truth is out there.
The opening concert of Musica Angelica's 27th season, its fifth in Long Beach, Friday night at the Beverly O'Neill Theater was called "Virtuoso Strings." And that's what we got.
Music director Martin Haselböck led a program of Baroque music that featured a stellar group of string players, each of whom was, in a word, a virtuoso. The playing was phenomenal, individually and collectively. These Musica Angelica concerts, an aggregation of just a few soloists — 14 total on this occasion — playing as a group, are invariably terrific.
The well-chosen program began with Heinrich Biber’s very odd “Battalia à 10.” As Haselböck explained in his typically jocular, rambling introductory remarks, the piece depicts a group of soldiers who battle, celebrate drunkenly, dance, battle some more, and then disperse. The second movement sounds astonishingly modern, with four tunes going simultaneously in different keys, and elsewhere there are some striking instrumental effects; the players stomp, play with the wood of the bow, the violone player puts paper under her strings to simulate the sound of a drum. Stuff like that. The piece is a hoot.
Johann Pachelbel’s hyperfamiliar “Canon in D,” more often encountered at weddings than in the concert hall, received a brisk, stylish reading, as did the less familiar Gigue that followed.
The remainder of the program consisted of concertos by two giants of the Baroque, Bach and Vivaldi. The latter wrote more than 40 double concertos, where two instruments share the spotlight, and his Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Strings is typical. Violinist YuEun Kim and cellist Alexa Haynes-Pilon, each a master of the style, clearly lived up to that virtuoso label.
Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, later transcribed by Bach for four harpsichords, featured Musica Angelica’s two concertmasters, Ilia Korol and Cynthia Roberts, Kim, and Mishkar Nuñez-Fredell as soloists.
After intermission came Bach. His Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 was written for the unusual combination of two violas, here played by Korol and Cynthia Black, two violas da gamba (Justin-Haynes Pilon and Malachai Bandy, and continuo (Alexa Haynes-Pilon, Denise Briesé on violone, and Haselböck at the harpsichord). The interplay of instruments, especially between the two violas, was a delight.
Korol, Roberts, and Kim returned to throw off more virtuosic sparks in Bach’s Concerto for Three Violins. And then the group assembled for the perfect encore, a sheerly beautiful performance of the serene slow movement from Brandenburg No. 3, more familiarly known as the “Air on the G String.”
This is the 27th season of Musica Angelica’s existence, its fifth headquartered in Long Beach. The players are experts in Baroque style, and they play on authentic, or replica, period instruments. They continue to perform this attractive, irresistible repertoire at the highest level of virtuosity.
There’s that word again.