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Monday, April 06, 2020

All You Can Handel

From the Vault Dept.: Capitol Chamber Artists has been presenting music in the Albany, NY, area for over a half-century. They have been responsible for fresh versions of old favorites as well as new and unusual works. Here’s my review and, non-chronologically, my advance on a concert celebrating 1985's Handel tricentennial. These were also among my final pieces for the Albany Knickerbocker News, which paid shit money but took exception to my writing for another area publication.


CAPITOL CHAMBER ARTISTS, a small group which has doggedly managed to present several seasons of chamber music to this area, is finally attracting the size of audience it deserves, judging from the turnout at a concert in celebration of the birthday of Handel.

George Frideric Handel
The auditorium at the Albany Institute of History and Art on Sunday boasted a larger crowd than has attended many of the group’s previous concerts, and the audience was treated to a very energetic performance of some of Handel’s best-loved music, the high point of which was soprano Mary Anne Ross’s presentation of selections from “Messiah.”

The program opened with the “Largo” from the opera “Xerxes,” originally an aria and now a mainstay of young violinists and wedding processionals. Performed by an ensemble of strings, flute, bassoon and harpsichord, it was given the stateliness it deserves, and was an effective prelude to the music which followed.

The orchestra was augmented for the “Messiah” selections with the addition of oboe, although the recitative sections were sung to continuo. Ms. Ross had the unique distinction of being absolutely intelligible all the time, without resorting to the florid overpronunciation which dogs many a singer.

In conclusion, Capitol Chamber Artists presented the “Water Music” in an edition that made the oboist practically a jazz soloist, so convoluted was the ornamentation. (There’s a terrible phenomenon that occurs in hearing the most familiar pieces. Anything that slightly deviates from the recording you grew up with sounds “wrong.”)

Randy Ellis was the superb oboist, the orchestra, led by violinist Mary Lou Saetta, included violinists Leo Mahigian and Janet Rowe, violist Angelo Frascarelli and cellist Chris Bianchi, who, with harpsichordist Elizabeth O’Neil, did the fine continuo work. Irvin Gilman played flute and piccolo, June Partch was bassoonist and Ronald Patrick and Linda Pushee played horn in the appropriate sections of the “Water Music.”

The selections were prefaced by interesting and amusing commentary by Ms. Saetta and Gilman, one of the practices that makes their concerts so special.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 19 February 1985


THE CAPITOL CHAMBER ARTISTS are giving this year’s musical birthday boys – Bach and Handel –  a chance to shine on separate programs. Handel will be honored in a pair of concerts Saturday and Sunday titled “A Handel Spectacular.”

Born 300 years ago at Halle, Germany, George Frideric Handel was the son of a barber who, as with so many fathers, didn’t think music was an appropriate career for men of the middle class. His father died young, however, and Handel was free to follow his preferred course of study.

His great loves were the Opera House and the Royal Courts, and even as he pleased one he seemed to vex the other. At the age of 25, Handel was appointed conductor to the Elector of Hanover, receiving the equivalent of $1,500 a year (to Bach’s $80 per annum at Weimar). A visit to London in 1710 made him determine to make that city his home, and he returned to London the following year for good, to the extreme displeasure of the Elector. Handel wasted no time currying favor with the Queen, however, and his “Birthday Ode for Queen Anne” pleased the monarch enough to provide the composer with a pension.

But Anne died shortly thereafter, and her successor was none other than Handel’s old boss, the Elector, who came to the throne as George I. Whereupon Handel busied himself with more monarch-pleasing music-making.

Soprano Mary Anne Ross will be on hand to sing selections from “Messiah” with the Capitol  Chamber Artists. Also on the program are the Largo from “Xerxes” and the “Water Music” – the very piece that placated George I enough to restore Handel to favor.

The concerts will take place Saturday evening at 8 at the Bush Memorial Auditorium in Troy, and Sunday afternoon at 3 at the Albany Institute of History and Art. Tickets are available at the door.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 16 February 1985

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