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MUSIC REVIEW : FESTIVAL GOES BEYOND BAROQUE

The Corona del Mar Baroque Music Festival isn’t simply a baroque festival. Indeed, the opening program Sunday evening at St. Michael and All Angels Church included works by four baroque and five 20th-Century composers.

Some commonalities linked the baroque works with those written later. In the first half, a variation form extremely popular during Bach’s time served as the common thread.

Organist Ladd Thomas gave distinct and distinguished performances of three passacaglias: a Handel work for organ and strings (Opus 5, No. 4), the post-Romantic counterpoint of Max Reger’s Introduction and Passacaglia, and Ellis Kohs’ Passacaglia for organ and strings.

In each work, Thomas showed intelligent registration, logical phrasing and able technique. The Kohs’ work, written in 1946, revolves around a haunting, angular theme that is developed contrapuntally and intensified by several orchestral devices--extended tremolos, syncopated pizzicatos and upper register writing. The strings, directed by Burton Karson, performed ably here as in the Handel.

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The second half of the program made for a delightful Christmas concert--forget the calendar. Thomas opened with Louis-Claude Daquin’s attractive “Noel,” a kind of carol-fantasia. He followed this with a first-rate account of Marcel Dupre’s “Variations sur un Noel,” a modern and somewhat idiosyncratic treatment of another French carol.

Yet another variation form functioned as the common denominator for organ works by Pachelbel, Paul Manz and Max Drischner. Thomas gave clear and purposeful readings of three chorale preludes on “Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern,” the last of which sparkled with December cheer with its dance-like rhythm .

Handel’s Concerto in F, Opus 4, No. 5 rounded off the program. With solid and precise backing from Karson’s orchestra, the organist delivered a performance lively and full of character. Two Bach works appeared earlier in the program. The Sinfonia in D minor from Cantata 146 (perhaps more familiar as a harpsichord concerto) received a bright, buoyant and clean reading. Thomas opened with Bach’s familiar Toccata and Fugue in D minor, delivered with flair.


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