The sixth annual Baroque Music Festival of Corona del Mar closed Sunday evening with a two-in-one concert at St. Michael & All Angels Church. Festival director Burton Karson surrounded works featuring harpsichordist Malcolm Hamilton with choral cantatas in a balanced, unhackneyed program.
Only Bach's Fifth "Brandenburg" Concerto could be considered standard fare here. In Hamilton's hands, the famous cadenza proved more an uneven display of finger speed than a measured musical statement. He supported the fluent efforts of violinist Clayton Haslop and flutist Susan Stockhammer, however, in a nobly poised Adagio.
After the intermission, Hamilton returned to play the sprightly lead in Vittorio Rieti's neo-Baroque Partita (1945). Ably seconded by Stockhammer, oboist Donald Leake and a string quartet, he made a pithy, entertaining case for the unduly neglected work.
Haslop and Stockhammer essayed some pertinent embellishment in the "Brandenburg" Adagio, but Karson's Baroque interpretations were generally faceless. Conducting instrumental pieces, he was content to beat time, smiling benevolently on all and sundry.
In the choral numbers he made every effort to impart a vigorous, full character, which was reflected in the singing of the 25-voice Festival Singers. At St. Michael & All Angels the chancel is a large, round dais; Karson and his small orchestra perched on top, the choir down and behind it, but balances seldom suffered from the arrangement.
Communication, though, was something else. Rhythmic stability was frequently threatened in the opening chorus of Bach's "Gott, wie dein Name," BWV 171, and the central fugal chorus of Telemann's "Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich," which was repeated in encore. And in the final movement of Mendelssohn's "Wer nur den lieben Gott laesst walten," the chorus just skipped the initial entrance.
Christopher Lindbloom dispatched the bass duties--an aria in the Telemann cantata and an accompanied recitative in the Bach--with a resonant, well-focused voice and clearly enunciated text. Tenor Gregory Wait's more active arias were earnest but not evenly articulated. Soprano Su Harmon brought gentle simplicity to her Mendelssohn and Bach arias, though dominated in the latter by Haslop's violin obbligato.