The Santa Fe Pro Musica “Baroque Christmas” is always a particular treat. With the Loretto Chapel decked out in red poinsettias and green roping, the atmosphere is just perfect for the intimate forces of a baroque ensemble. While only some of the music belongs to Christmas per se, the works are always festive and full of surprise, particularly so this year with vocal soloist Deborah Domanski.
To hear Domanski sing George Frideric Handel is a thing of pure joy. She made her debut with the Santa Fe Opera some years ago as the sexy prima donna in Handel’s Radamisto. Here she sang two arias from his Italian operas. In “Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” (I am enbued by sweet affection) from the magical opera “Alcina,” long, gorgeous legato lines highlight this touching, pathos-laden outpouring. Then, in the raging “Furibondo spira il vento” (Furiously blows the wind) from “Partenope,” Domanski’s pristine highs mix with rich, reverberant lows, exquisite tones scaling in a whirlwind from one extreme to the other. Majestic, world-class performances both backed masterfully by the instrumental ensemble.
The concert opened with Johann Melchior Molter’s Concerto Pastorale, one of many Baroque-era Christmas concertos, the most famous of which is by Arcangelo Corelli. The opening movement is cast in the gentle triple-time sway that typically characterizes pastorales of this era. Generally light in tone, the work turns darker only for a moment in the second Aria. The ensemble played it with a rare combination of spontaneity matched with elegance.
Henry Purcell’s Fantasy on a Ground in D Major, given by the four string players and organ, deftly wove through the intricate interlacing lines of counterpart creating perfect harmonies.
The Telemann Concerto in E Minor for Recorder, Flute and Strings spotlighted the formidable talents of Carol Redman and MaryAnn Shore. The flute was in the process of replacing the recorder in this era, but as this concerto clearly illustrates, that usurpation had not yet become a fait accompli. Here, the slightly brighter sound of the Shore’s recorder generally took the higher part in duet with the mellower timbre of Redman’s transverse (wooden) flute. The folk-music character of the final movement seemed to have echoes of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (much later) “Nutcracker” dances. A tour de force for both exceptional performers.
As always, a set of traditional carols finished the program. However, this year it began with something quite special. Domanski’s rendition of “O Holy Night” was truly transcendental. The rather dark accompaniment, baroque instruments playing a decidedly late-Romantic work, only served to set off her glorious voice as a beacon in the night while it sailed to the most divine climaxes. Few will forget this moment.
The set concluded with J.S. Bach’s immortal “Sheep May Safely Graze” from his Cantata No. 208.
Deborah Domanski appears with the New Mexico Philharmonic on Feb. 15.