MUSIC REVIEWS : Musica Angelica Honors Purcell

In what might be considered a down payment on the kind of Henry Purcell commemoration we deserve--the English composer died in 1695--the singers and period instrumentalists of Musica Angelica, under the direction of lutenist Michael Eagan, offered an ambitious program of his music in Pasadena's handsome United Methodist Church on Friday.

Eagan had strong forces at his disposal, notably a 15-member chorus of uncommon flexibility and skill, eight of whose members doubled as soloists--or perhaps the soloists, some of our area's best Baroque practitioners, doubled as choristers.

Either way, we were welcomed to the pleasures of the "Ode to St. Cecilia's Day," the earlier and less grandiose of the composer's two tributes to the patron saint of music, by confident voices and solid string playing.

The program's central offering, a suite from "King Arthur," was, however, more involving: the composer at the peak of his melodic and harmonic inspiration.

Eagan's singers--with lively solo work by soprano Susan Judy and baritone Edward Levy in the awesome "Frost Scene"--made one long for more of "King Arthur." Or at least the fulfillment of a more attainable dream, a complete performance of "Dido and Aeneas," of which we were given a tantalizing taste via soprano Samela Aird Beasom's immaculately tuned, touchingly simple singing of "Dido's Lament" and, by the full vocal ensemble, of its choral apostrophe, "With drooping wings."

Elsewhere, one had to put up with a good deal of raggedness and rhythmic flab in the string-band's "Chacony" (a smaller ensemble might have helped) and untidy choral work in the complexities of the anthem for the coronation of James II, "My Heart is Inditing," which was attractive in tone, but peppered with splayed entrances and cutoffs.

Nothing that additional rehearsal time couldn't have remedied. But that's usually the rub with occasional ensembles such as this, no matter how proficient the individual members.

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