LACO – Ninth Season Opens With Special Performance of Bach’s Concerto for Four Harpsichords
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra began the ninth season of its unique “Baroque Conversations” series with a splendidly cheerful evening of lighthearted Baroque music. This particular performance began by honoring LACO artistic founder/former cellist, James Arkatov. Mr. Arkatov shared anecdotes with great affection and humor of LACO’s beginnings. He concluded by sweetly paying homage and wishing a Happy Birthday to his nonegenarian wife sitting in the front row. Also of note for this performance was the acknowledgment of the connection between Vivaldi and Bach, who transcribed many of Vivaldi’s works during his career. And, in keeping with the upcoming holidays, LACO also included in the program, Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, “Christmas Concerto.”
The Baroque Conversations series maintained its devoted explorations of orchestral music from early Baroque through pre-classical with performances of esoteric works rarely performed for various reasons. Conductor Jeffrey Kahane, who functions as a host, conductor and performer, provided the history with insights into these various selections, and what makes each one special. The rarely heard original version of Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10, from “L’Estro Armonico” opened the program. This piece is comprised of twelve strings and featured Margaret Batjer, Jacqueline Brand, Josefina Vergara and Sarah Thronblade, with Mr. Kahane playing continuo on the harpsichord. With the ensemble standing rather than seated, there was a sense of synchronicity with all the members fully engaged with one another as an ensemble creating a musical dialogue between the four featured string players.
The next piece, Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, began with a truly delightful introduction by equally delightful oboist, Allan Vogel. Mr. Vogel’s introduction to any composition is always effortlessly didactic, and amusingly droll. Upon describing this piece as a “great Italian pizza”, he brought the history of this rarely heard Albinoni piece to life, promising the audience a “spirited piece with serious energy.” They were not disappointed thanks to Mr. Vogel’s charismatic, effortless and flawlessly delivered performance. It seemed to be one of those performances where “a good time was had by all.”
Following the Albinoni was Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, also known as the “Christmas Concerto.” By far the most famous of the Albinoni Concerti, this is dubbed the “Christmas Concerto” because of its final movement is marked Pastorale. This term is derived from the Italian word pastori, referring to the shepherds who gathered at the manger in Bethlehem. Although this concerto is unusual in that it has six movements, it flowed toward the Pastorale with a comfortable fluidity.
And lastly, as the final selection, was a rare performance Bach’s transcription of the unprecedented and seldom performed, wonderfully extravagant, Concerto in A minor for Four Harpsichords, BWV 1065. The harpsichord have a charm all its own – mesmerizing – perhaps it is because of its inherent purity. It is an elegant, charming, yet slightly reserved, instrument. The strings are mechanically plucked and then muted, making the sound brittle, rattling and clipped, which may also be interpreted as pristine, brilliant and crystalline, depending on the composition. There is no forte and no pianissimo; no variation in dynamics, perhaps making the harpsichord sound more “formal” and precise than the more sonorous, romantic and ponderous piano. With the four harpsichords of this evening, two being French and two being Italian – each one with a very different appearance – there was nothing, except the use of an occasional lute stop, to affect the two manual keyboard. And, of course, the harpsichordists themselves.
Performing on the four harpsichords for this evening were: conductor Allan Vogel; Patricia Mabee, fabulous principal keyboardist with the LACO since 1976; Ian Pritchard, Music Dept. Faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s College; and Gilbert Martinez, artistic director of MusicSources in the Bay Ares.
Their playing was perfect, as performing on the harpsichord must be by the very nature of its construction. With each player having solo sections, they segued seamlessly between one another in a continuum of breathtaking contrapuntal harmonics which created a richness that would otherwise be unknown had it remained as Vivaldi’s original composition.
LACO’s Baroque Conversations is one of the most consistently outstanding musical series available for those who want more than to just hear wonderful musical performances. The initial rapport Mr. Kahane creates with the audience sets up a friendly atmosphere that leads to a wonderfully sophisticated, yet unthreatening musical evening even for the most uninitiated in Baroque music. It is always very comfortable, casual, and yet, a delightfully educational evening for all those who attend.
P.S. LACO also has a free education program that deserves mentioning: In cooperation with LAUSD, it reaches more than 3,000 under-served elementary school students.