Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra
Christel DeHaan Center, U of I
Offering Christmas fare from the Baroque period is common enough this time of year, but when it includes a newly discovered composition by one of the great period masters, we may become a bit more tantalized.
The composer in question is George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), and the "new" piece is his setting of the Gloria from the Catholic Ordinary. Though this early work dating from 1707 has supposedly been authenticated as a genuine work of the master, a consummately knowledgeable friend tells me that Handel was, all his life, too staunch a Protestant to have set any part of the Mass - and thus continues to doubt its authenticity.
Whatever the truth be, this Gloria is beautifully written - and moreover was beautifully sung by soprano Sherezade Panthaki and played by the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra in a lovely concert entitled Noël, Noël. Though the Gloria clearly isn't Christmas themed, everything else on the program was. Still, without a text, who can say what music relates to the Nativity and what doesn't? To me, Handel's Gloria sounded more like his Baroque predecessor Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), whose "Christmas Concerto" rang in my ears.
Throughout its six sections, the piece evoked many moods, with the "Et in terra pax" through the "Qui tollis" darker and more plaintive than the exuberant outer sections, "Gloria in excelsis Deo" and "Quonium tu solus sanctus." Its heavy use of counterpoint belies the more homophonic textures of the mature Handel, which we heard as contrast in two "Christmas" excerpts from his Messiah.
The concert also featured works of Bach, Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Giuseppe Torelli. Our 10 local Baroque players - four violinists, one violist, one cellist, one violone (an early doublebass) player, two recorder players and leader/harpsichordist Thomas Gerber, all playing on period instruments - delivered as thoroughly polished an account of these pieces as one could imagine. Light vibrato and perfect pitch were as delicately nuanced as the best touring ensembles brought us in last summer's Early Music Festival.
And Panthaki's vocalizing was stylishly top-notch - as good an example of Baroque singing as I can recall ever hearing. She'll be back with the Ensemble Voltaire this Jan. 13 at the Trinity Episcopal Church. Don't miss her.