Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra started a new season on Jan. 15 at Pasadena’s Scott Pavilion with an all-Beethoven three-sonata thriller featuring fortepiano virtuoso Gottlieb Wallisch, violinist Ilia Korol and Hermann Ebner playing the natural horn.
Wallisch was virtuosic throughout the evening. He understood the fortepiano and could coax its beautiful sound into a wonderfully authentic Beethoven experience. He played a reproduction of Mozart’s actual instrument, one that we can assume Beethoven also used in his early years. The overall tonal character was akin to our familiar piano, but the sound was quiet and delicate with a distinctly variable timbre, especially in the lowest register where its tone approached that of a harpsichord.
The artistry that Ebner gave to the Sonata for French Horn and Piano in F-major, op. 17 mesmerized. Beethoven wrote this sonata by request of a virtuoso of his era, so the score requires every technique imaginable — fantastic trills, pedal tones and sweeping arpeggios. Ebner’s mindful expressiveness was palpable. We could vicariously feel the calibrated pressure of his left arm and grip that coupled the instrument to his lips as his jaw and cheeks prepared and executed each note. His natural horn (ca: 1760) appeared smaller than a modern French horn, with no valves or keys and a less-flared bell with its original decoration barely visible. He constantly shaded and fine-tuned each pitch with his right hand moving piston-like into the bell, his wrist and fingers making nuanced adjustments. Given the wrestling bout that Ebner was engaged in with the horn, he kept attacks consistently clean and his phrasing ever buoyant. The Adagio was especially moving. Bravo!
Wallisch was extraordinary with the Piano Sonata in A-major, op. 2/2. He was nimble with a lightness of touch that was precise in each attack. The instrument brought forth a warmer, gentler Beethoven than my modern ears are accustomed to hearing. Wallisch was masterful. Bravo for a unique, elegant experience!
The fortepiano blended beautifully with Korol’s sweet 18th-century violin for a delightful performance of Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in G-major, op.30/3. Korol’s phrasing was remarkable. His nuanced dynamics breathed a natural prosodic rhythm. He found a happy, youthful path through the tuneful sonata, and in the intimate environs we could discern his body motion and facial expressions informing each phrase. Korol and Wallisch were superb; I felt as though experiencing young Beethoven for the very first time.
The authenticity of the instruments and the artists who play them gelled particularly well. Musica Angelica brings more than fine music to the stage — it brings something unique, the delight of music in its original form without the distortion and patina of modern times. In this instance, what’s old is new. Bravo to Music Director Martin Haselböck for bringing us the power and passion of authentic Beethoven!
~ Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA
For information about upcoming concerts, visit https://www.musicaangelica.org.