Los Angeles’ own Baroque period practice ensemble, Musica Angelica returned to the concert stage last weekend alongside their much regarded Music Director Martin Haselböck. And though it was the weekend after Valentine’s Day, love was in the air. Or at least a version of it as expressed through matrimony. The program, which I saw in the second of two performances at Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church, centered around two J.S. Bach cantatas widely believed to have been written for weddings: No. 202 “Weichet nur, betrübe Schatten” and No. 210 “O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit.” Both are filled with charming arias and can be as pensive and dark as they are bright and celebratory, perhaps reflecting a very different context on the role of marriage and romantic love in the 18th century. Bach fills each work with clever structural elements such as in No. 210 where the number of players is slowly reduced throughout the work until arriving at “Schweigt, ihr Flöten, schweigt, ihr Töne” (Be silent, you flutes, be silent you notes). Bach whittles away the musical world to just flute and voice in much the way a wedding recognizes an important relationship of two individuals in the context of a greater society.
The musicians who became the “lovers” in these musical pairings all had great moments on Sunday. Soprano Mary Wilson was the soloist in both works and sang with a clear, bright, and even tone. She's known to local audiences for her prior performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and it was exciting to hear her again in some of the Baroque material that makes up an increasing part of her performance schedule. Her partners in these duets included flautist Stephen Schultz and oboist Gonzalo Ruiz. Ruiz also played in the reconstructed Oboe Concerto in D minor that was included in the program. The dexterity and detail in his performance was thrilling to hear. Bach may have been thinking of many things when he composed, but the need for breath in the oboe player here wasn’t apparently one of them. Ruiz did more than soldier through the rapid-fire ornamentation, and stole much of the afternoon’s thunder away from his fellow musicians. The show started with Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor with soloist Cynthia Roberts. This piece came off a little punchier and rough hewn than one might expect even from a Baroque ensemble, but this edge softened by the conclusion of the piece and left for plenty of wonderful playing that followed.