Live Baroque Music: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center

By Don Heckman

Northridge, CA.  It’s been a week since the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra presented an entrancing evening of Baroque music at the Valley Performing Arts Center last Sunday. Traveling plans for the week delayed my review. But I don’t want to miss the opportunity to offer a few thoughts about LACO’s creative comfort with the music of Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli and Albinoni.

The program – which especially emphasized the connections between Bach and Vivaldi – was well-chosen, in part to display the compelling character of so much Baroque music; in part to underscore the versatility of the LACO artists.

The opening work, Bach’s adaptation of Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10, from L’Estro Armonico, featured LACO concertmaster Margaret Batjer; LACO principals Josefina Vergara, Sarah Thornblade and Jacqueline Brand, violins. One of the works included in Vivald’s L’Estro Armonico (Harmonic Inspiration) which has been praised as the “most influential instrumental music of the 18th century, the concerto features the four violins with a small chamber ensemble. As always, Bach’s scoring for violins is captivating, and the four players made the most of every high flying passage.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Up next, Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op. 9, No. 2 provided a showcase opportunity to hear the virtuosic oboe playing of Alan Vogel. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this gifted artist in action as a soloist and an ensemble player in full orchestral and chamber settings. And each occasion has produced richly musical results – as did this performance. Albinoni’s work, filled with plenty of finger-busting opportunities to reveal Vogel’s spectacular technique, also opened passages for his warm lyricism, as well.

The third piece, Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, “Christmas Concerto” was an apt choice for this holiday weeks program  — the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s opening performance in what one hopes will be first in a long and continuing series of appearances at the Valley Performing Arts Center.

Finally, there was J.S. Bach’s Concerto in A minor for Four Harpsichords, BWV 1065 – yet another Bach transcription of a Vivaldi work– with LACO’s harpsichord soloists Jeffrey Kahane, Patricia Mabee and special guests Ian Pritchard and Gilbert Martinez. The rarity of hearing four harpsichords playing together as solo instruments made for an extraordinary musical event – enhanced by the differences in sound, timbre and texture between the harpsichords, two French and two Italian instruments.

Appropriately, it was the climax of the relatively brief hour and a half program. And my only complaint was triggered by the difficulty of properly hearing the full subtleties of the quartet of harpsichord sounds within the large acoustic expanse of the Valley Performing Arts Center, especially from the rear-of-the-theatre row in which we were seated. But that was a small complaint in the overall context of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s warm and engaging program of memorable Baroque music.

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