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MUSIC REVIEWS : Camerata Performs at Newport; Angeles String Quartet on UCI Campus : Conductor Robert Hickok and the Irvine Camerata succeed in giving ancient music immediate, dramatic appeal.

Robert Hickok and the Irvine Camerata apparently had a point to make with their concert Saturday at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church: that sacred music, no matter how ancient, can still move us in an immediate, dramatic way. They made the point, and then some, in an enlightening program of music from the 16th to 18th centuries.

In the process, Hickok unearthed a rarely heard masterpiece, the oratorio “Jepthe” by Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674).

Carissimi’s setting of the biblical story--which concerns a father’s sacrifice of his only daughter--is a boldly outlined, surely constructed drama, with its direct expression of exalted and somber emotions and strikingly varied textures. Hickok assembled strong performers for the occasion, including soprano Patricia Prunty and tenor Bruce Johnson--who both gave deeply felt readings as the protagonists--as well as harpsichordist Malcolm Hamilton and organist Ronald Huntington. The Camerata sang with robust energy, grace and sympathetic moodiness.

Hickok also gave vivid expression to a more familiar offering, Haydn’s “Lord Nelson” Mass. Here, Hickok never settled for mere contrast between massive and intimate, but actively shaped each phrase with emphatic accents and crescendos, clear annunciation and gently arched lyricism.

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The solo quartet consisted of Prunty, the fluid-voiced Johnson, bass Yoav Paskowitz (in husky voice) and rich-toned contralto Ellen Rabiner. The orchestra proved scrappy at times but responsive to the conductor’s shapings. The choir made a mighty, well-focused sound, singing with rhythmic point and exuberance.

Hickok began with five laments (memorial motets on the deaths of admired personages) by Renaissance composers Appenzeller, Senfl, Mouton, Isaac and Vinders. Though the intricate counterpoint was sometimes obscured, Hickok and the Camerata gave the readings that were full-blooded, expertly tuned and moving.


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