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Thrilling displays of ornamentation, charged with emotion

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Undoubtedly due to our association of the “Messiah” oratorio with Christmas, Baroque music in general always seems appropriate to the season.

On Thursday night, the eve of the Winter Solstice, Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble opened its run of hourlong concerts entitled “A Baroque Christmas.”

Guest mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski alternates with soprano Liesl Odenweller.

Held at the Loretto Chapel, adorned for Christmas with poinsettias and blood-red ribbons garnishing evergreen roping, this concert is performed on Baroque period instruments. Though the evening is only a bit more than an hour in length, it is well worth the drive up to Santa Fe.

The program opens with instrumental excerpts from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera “The Fairy Queen,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The music instantly sets the festive mood, each a sparkling piece of musical invention, including two jolly Hornpipes (Sailors’ Dance) — a popular form in sea-faring Britain — and a spritely back-and-forth play between winds and strings in the “Dance for the Fairies.”

Vivaldi’s motet, “Nulla in mundo pax sincera” (There is no peace without sorrow) is a dramatic work designed for vocal display, and though not a Christmas piece per se, it does have that feel about it.

I have a recording of the work by the great British soprano Emma Kirkby, but Santa Fe’s Deborah Domanski sang it with more color and more engaging expression.

Two arias are separated by a recitative that blooms with sensitive embellishment. One can revel in the serpent’s hiss in the second aria “Spirat anguis inter.”

The Alleluia was a thrilling display of fioratura ornamentation not only immaculate in execution but charged with brilliant emotion.

Overall, a performance that will remain in the memory of those present.

It is no wonder Domanski leaves for an engagement at the Metropolitan Opera next month. We wish her the best.

When one thinks of Christmas music, it is generally vocal music that first comes to mind.

Yet during the Baroque period, when instrumental music began to come into its own, many composers wrote concertos or sinfonias specifically designed for Christmas use. Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G Minor is by the far the most often played.

Concertmaster Stephen Redfield immediately sets the tone with an exhilarating clip. After several more fast-paced movements, the work ends with a graceful Pastorale. The ensemble gives the music a fresh gleam that shines throughout.

The final set brings Domanski back to the stage for popular carols from a variety of countries. Sentiment ranges from the humorous Tyrolian carol about two bumpkin shepherds, to the reverently beautiful Russian “In a Manger.”

But finally Domanski takes on yet another piece of bravura singing in Handel’s “O had I Jubal’s lyre,” resulting Thursday night in deservedly boisterous applause.

This concert repeats nightly at 6 and 8 p.m. through Monday, Dec. 24 at the Loretto Chapel, 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe. For ticket information call 505-988-1234.

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