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Getting his LACO feet wet: Martin Haselböck charms in water-themed debut

Since 2005, Martin Haselböck has been Music Director of Musica Angelica, Los Angeles’s premiere period instrument baroque ensemble.  He’s been a prominent organist and conductor in his native Austria longer than that.  So it was perhaps a little surprising that, until this past Thursday, he hadn’t yet appeared with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in any capacity.

His debut coincided with the final concert of this season’s Baroque Conversations series that LACO performs at Zipper Hall in the Colburn School.  As usual, it was an easy-going affair with descriptions from the podium and Q&A after the concert.  Unlike the typical Baroque Conversations concerts which feature solos or small ensembles, he had the benefit of a large compliment of LACO and guest musicians.

He helmed the bigger crew in a water-themed concert that charmed the audience with offerings from Handel and Telemann, as well as through his descriptions, anecdotes, and responses to questions posed to him.

The concert opened and closed with different takes on “Water Music.”  The more familiar work by Handel was the curtain raiser, with Mr. Haselböck mixing, matching, and re-ordering parts from all three of the suites. His tempi were moderate throughout, and only occasionally did he give an extra nudge to an accent, bring out a supporting musical line, or anything else to personalize his interpretation of the well-known piece. After a rough start from the horns, the musicians settled down and offered some lovely playing with minimal vibrato (expected) and ornamentation (unexpected). Allan Vogel’s oboe cadenza from the D major suite was easily the highlight, though Patricia Mabee’s richly filigreed harpsichord continuo was also noteworthy.

On the back-end of the concert was “Water Music” from Telemann. Unlike Handel’s suites, Telemann’s C major suite was never intended to be performed on the water. Instead, it was written for the 100th Year Anniversary celebration of the Hamburg Admiralty, and features whimsical music about mythical characters from the sea along with characterizations of the wind and waves. It ends with a sailor’s dance. It was the first time LACO had played the work, and Orchestra and conductor gave it an enthusiastic performance. It might not have the depth of Handel’s better-known suites, but it’d be fun to hear again.

The centerpiece of the night was Handel’s Organ Concerto in F major, Op. 4, No. 4, with the conductor as soloist.  Now, one might wonder (at least I did) what an organ concerto had to do with a water-themed concert.  Mr. Haselböck explained that the earliest version of the instrument, the “hydraulis,” was crafted 300 years before Christ (or the “Common Era” if you prefer), and essentially used hydraulic power (from either natural sources or water pumped manually) to generate the movement of air through pipes. . . . It was a bit of a stretch, but I was happy to go along.

For this performance, he brought with him Musica Angelica’s chamber organ, with a new principal stop of metal pipes installed by Manuel Rosales (the locally based organ master who co-designed the organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall, and designed and built the organ in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels) replacing wooden pipes (two stops of wooden pipes remain).

It was the first time the modified instrument had been used in a performance, and Mr. Haselböck used his newly renovated instrument to full-effect, creating a variety of timbres and textures that was surprising for such a small instrument. The dialogue between soloist and orchestra was natural and seamless.

All told, there seemed to be good chemistry between Mr. Haselböck and the LACO musicians, and this was confirmed by comments made during the ensuing Q&A by LACO Concertmaster Margaret Batjer and him. I’d be very curious to hear more from this budding partnership.

“Baroque Conversations 5” by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: May 3, 2012; Zipper Hall (The Colburn School)
Handel: Water Music (movements arranged by Mr. Haselböck)

From Suite #2 in D major

Allegro
Alla hornpipe

From Suite #3 in G major

Menuett

From Suite #1 in F major

Adagio e staccato
Allegro
Andante

From Suite #2 in D major

Menuett
Lentement
Bourree

Handel:   Organ Concerto in F major, Op. 4, No. 4

Telemann:   Water Music Suite in C major, TWV 55:C3
1. Overture
2. Sarabande ‘Die schlafende thetis’ (The sleeping Thetis)
3. Bouree ‘die erwachende Thetis (The awakened Thetis)
4. Loure ‘Der verliebte Neptunus’ (The love-struck Neptune)
5. Gavotte ‘Spielende Najaden’ (The playful Naiades)
6. Harlequinade ‘Der schertzende Tritonus’ (The joker Triton)
7. Tempete ‘Der sturmende Aeolus’ (The violent Aeolus)
8. Menuet ‘Der angenehme Zephir’ (The pleasant Zephyr)
9. Gigue ‘Ebb und Fluth’ (Ebb and Flow)
10. Canarie ‘Die lustigen Bots Leute’ (The merry sailors)

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Photo credit: Lukas Beck

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