Horizon Chamber Choir Delivers Spellbinding Bach

Jim Ruggirello, Gazettes.com

It began with the first note.

I know, all concerts do. But the first notes produced by Horizon Chamber Choir at their concert the other day at California Heights Methodist Church, the opening concert of this year’s Long Beach Bach Festival, were spellbinding, intoxicating. They promised something special.

And something special was delivered. The Horizon’s program of works by Monteverdi, Purcell, Kuhnau and, of course, Bach, was an ear-opening experience, one of the best choral performances we’ve had around here for a long, long time.

The Los Angeles-based Horizon ensemble consists of 16 beautiful voices under the direction of Christian Campos. The opening sounds of the Monteverdi “Lamento di Arianna,” familiar to a legion of beginning vocal students in a solo version, portended what was to come. That sound eschewed vibrato in place of a gorgeous, direct tone that cut straight to a listener’s heart.

The Monteverdi was a revelation. Precise, unanimous changes in tempo made for compelling drama, coupled with the sheer beauty of sound from these fine singers. You think 16 a cappella voices and you think wimpy. This was anything but.

It wasn’t quite a cappella, either. Aurelien Eulert supported the group at a small positif organ placed front and center (not the church’s massive instrument, thank you). The sound was pleasant and for the most part unobtrusive; only in the first Purcell anthem, “Remember not, Lord, our offences,” did the texture get a little thick. And the registration was either lightened considerably or the organ cut out entirely for Johann Kuhanu’s “Tristis est anima mea.” The contrast was nice.

This is the 40th anniversary of the Long Beach Bach Festival, presented by the Long Beach Camerata Singers. This performance culminated in a moving, thoroughly impressive reading of old J.S.’s great motet, “Jesu, meine Freude.”

Campos’s conducting is expressive, varied and tuned perfectly with the music, and he draws from his singers committed, passionate performances. Each section sounds great on its own, and the combined sound is sublime.

The florid passages in the Bach were executed to perfection, the unexpected unisons startling in their power. The fugal movement, which is central to the work, left one in awe of Bach’s mastery of counterpoint, and full of admiration for the singers’ musicality, technique and sense of style. The outer chorale movements were inexpressibly poignant.

I really didn’t expect this concert to be that wonderful, and evidently a lot of other people didn’t, either. This was not a large audience. Hopefully, the next time the Horizon Chamber Choir comes to town, the place will be packed.

They, and you, deserve it.