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Esoteric Program : Hogwood Makes It A Mini-philharmonic

February 01, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

First came the sweet yet poignant "Stabat Mater" written by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi in 1736. Then came the mildly astringent neo-classical bagatelles of Stravinsky's "Pulcinella," a 1920 opus that happens to filch and filter some tunes from Pergolesi and his contemporaries.

Such a program--skimpy, perhaps, but undeniably clever--might have been lovely at the Japan America Theatre or Ambassador Auditorium. It could have been an appealing agenda for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

But the trend, these perverse days, seems to favor the placement of little, fragile concerts in big, callous halls. The trend also seems to favor the drastic, possibly wasteful, reduction of mighty symphonic ensembles to delicate mini-bands.

Last week, most of the San Diego Symphony took a paid vacation while 17 select players dabbled in some tiny-scale Stravinsky. Thursday night at the 3,200-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Los Angeles Philharmonic followed suit, after a fashion, with the modest Pergolesi-Stravinsky bill.

Christopher Hogwood, a past master of the esoteric miniature, devoted his only appearance of the season to this instant exploration of the intimate impulse. The music was nice. The music-making, for the most part, was stylish. The avoidance of the old-chestnut repertory was admirable. The vocal soloists were elegant. Still, the ambiance was wrong.

Subtle nuances got blunted in the wide-open spaces. Textures that would emerge delightfully transparent in the confines of a human-size hall seemed merely vapid here.

It was obvious that this was a potentially classy, unconventional event. As such, it failed to attract much of an audience, and those who bothered to come seemed a bit disoriented. They probably felt as if they were searching for a minnow in an Olympic-size pool, or examining precious jewels through the wrong end of a telescope.

Still, anyone willing to indulge in some aesthetic straining could savor some musical finesse. The logistic miscalculations were only disconcerting, so to speak. They weren't totally disastrous.

The prim piety of the Pergolesi served as a grateful vehicle for two intrinsically dissimilar singers. Arleen Auger brought bright, slender, cool, nearly vibrato-less tone to the arching soprano lines. Gail Dubinbaum brought dark, rich, warm, resonant tone to the mezzo-soprano lines.

Both sang accurately, with point and flexibility. Both performed eloquently in their solo challenges. In the duets, the inherent timbral disparities precluded an ideal blend.

Hogwood could have been more expansive in support of Pergolesi's lyrical flights. Nevertheless, he sustained welcome clarity, momentum and point.

Crispness of instrumental articulation proved less reliable in the Stravinsky. Fortunately, there was enough breezy charm to compensate for passing imprecisions.

Properly pure in tone yet insinuating in manner, Auger led a sophisticated mock-Neapolitan trio for this mock- commedia dell'arte . David Gordon was the artful tenorino, Henry Herford the lightweight basso (imported from Great Britain, of course).

Next week: Berlioz, Brahms and a return to accustomed grandeur under Herbert Blomstedt.

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