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Spain in Age of Enlightenment is a winner for Texas Camerata

Posted 9:25am on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013

Texas Camerata's season-long journey through music of the Age of Enlightenment has proved at least one thing: There's plenty of musical gold to be mined in unexpected places.

Saturday afternoon's concert at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth may have been the most consistently listenable of the series. It focused on the Spanish Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries. Camerata regulars were assisted by vocalists from the Orchestra of New Spain directed by Grover Wilkins.

The program opened with a highly unusual string quintet by the best-known composer of the afternoon, Luigi Boccherini, and then switched to people like Domenico Zipoli, Santiago Billoni, Sebastián Durón, Antonio Yanguas and Juan Padilla.

The title of Boccherini's quintet may be translated as Night Music in the Streets of Madrid.

It's a cute work (how often can that adjective be applied to a piece of classical music?) that uses strings to represent drums, bells and a military march, among other things.

The most unusual touch is a segment in which two cellos are held and strummed as if they were guitars. Cameratists Karen Hall and Eric Smith managed this tricky feat gracefully.

Two segments of a mass by Zipoli, sung by a chamber choir of seven accompanied by instruments, were highly appealing, but for me the most beautiful music of the afternoon was a "Beatus vir" from Vespers Psalms by Billoni. This has been performed before in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but it's astonishing that a work so moving remains little known.

The tight-knit performance of the seven vocalists was impressive, as was the violin playing of Kristin Van Cleve, the artistic director of Texas Camerata.

The remainder of the program was on a consistently high level. Highlights were two zarzuela songs by Durón, sung winningly by Laura Warriner and Anna Popov, and a short mass (13 minutes by actual timing) by Francisco Courcelle. Much of the last part of the program was full of high spirits, despite the often religious origins of the music.

Texas Camerata will close its season on March 16 in the Modern Art Museum with its second stop in Enlightenment Germany.

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