Angelica holiday concert

Musica Angelica play a special holiday concert at the Beverly O'Neill Theater downtown.

Call it the best of the Baroque.

I couldn’t get to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, WinterFest or the Southern California Brass Consortium this past busy weekend, but I did manage to take in two concerts featuring three of Long Beach’s premier performing arts organizations offering music of the 18th Century. Both were excellent.

On Saturday, at the Beverly O’Neill Theater downtown, Musica Angelica presented a varied program of (sort of) Christmas-themed music. The former Center Theater was decked out with snowflakes, trees and chandeliers, and a holiday spirit pervaded the large and enthusiastic audience.

Onstage, the performers exhibited an astonishing level of virtuosity, both as an ensemble and in solos. Michael Oman did amazing things on recorder in Vivaldi’s familiar “Il Gardellino” concerto, and had some great byplay with music director Martin Hasselböck on organ in a double concerto by the same composer. Justin Bland, with a heraldic trumpet that lacked valves or keys, produced beautiful sounds in a work by Johann Melchior Molter.

The string body was dazzling, in the Christmas Concerto by Corelli and some inconsequential French dances by one Michel Corrette. And Oman, along with fellow recorder player Alexandra Opsahl and violinist Ilia Korol, brought the house down with a technically and musically impeccable Bach Brandenburg No. 4.

A word about Korol. The group’s concertmaster whenever he can take time from his busy international schedule, he is a joy to see and hear. Not only does he play like one’s dream violinist, but he is completely into the music, bouncing merrily along when he’s not playing (or sometimes when he is), exchanging sly glances with his colleagues, and basically having the time of his life. A treasure.

What can one say about the Long Beach Camerata Singers’ annual “Messiah” that hasn’t been said? On Sunday at Long Beach City College, accompanied for the first time by the Long Beach Symphony, the Camerata offered up their by-now-familiar performance of an almost complete version of Handel’s masterpiece.

The addition of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra paid dividends, especially in the form of Cécilia Tsan’s sensitive cello continuo and Rob Frear’s sterling trumpet. The orchestral work was splendid throughout. Robert Istad’s conducting was brisk and stylish.

Istad’s chorus was its usual excellent self, sounding perhaps lighter and more flexible than in years past but still possessing plenty of power for the big moments.

The soloists were a varied lot. Best was Allison Tyler’s crystal clear soprano. Adriana Manfredi’s mezzo was on the light side, and Todd Strange, though firm of tone, had a disconcerting tendency to scoop. James Martin Schaefer, substituting for an indisposed Abdiel Gonzalez, got off to a rough start but recovered in time to deliver, along with Frear, a thrilling “The trumpet shall sound.”

The holiday concert deluge has begun, and I couldn’t get to everything. But if these two concerts are an example, the music this December will be merry and bright.


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