Every June, one waits--sometimes in vain--for those musical activities which will bridge the gap between the frenzies of spring and the doldrums of summer. This June, we have an eight-day, multi-event Baroque Festival on the UCLA campus, one devoted in equal parts to professional performances of unhackneyed repertory and to scholarly examination of the musical scene--both past and present.
It is the E. Nakamichi Baroque Music Festival, presented by the UCLA department of music with funds ($400,000) given by the Los Angeles-based Nakamichi Foundation (Nakamichi Corp. USA is the North American subsidiary of a Japanese audio component manufacturer).
On the assumption that the festival will continue, in either an annual or a biennial incarnation, its subtitle in 1986 is "Venice and Versailles," the musical programs offered this week specializing either in the Italian or the French repertories of the period.
Fret not that Tuesday's opening evening concert was given in large Royce Hall by a 10-member ensemble called Accademia Veneziana; every sound, plangent or restrained, loud or soft, seemed to carry well in the handsome auditorium. Expressivity and passion, which sometimes materialize in performances of Baroque repertory, and sometimes do not, informed all these readings.
Indeed, we may soon--next week, perhaps--look back on this first Nakamichi Baroque series, and see it as the Mighty Mouse of festivals: small, keen, thoughtful--but, most important, powerful.
Launching a very promising week, the Accademia, directed--hardly conducted--by none other than Christopher Hogwood from one of two keyboard instruments, played so stylishly and with such enthusiasm, virtuosity and control that what might have seemed a monochromatic program--four of the 12 concertos which comprise Vivaldi's "L'Estro Armonico" and two medium-length vocal works--actually reveled in its own contrasts.
Vivaldi created these contrasts, of course; our public seldom gets to hear them, however. For the (important) record, the members of Accademia Veneziana are violinists Stanley Ritchie, Daniel Stepner, Nancy Wilson, Anthony Martin and Linda Quan; violists Laura Jeppesen and David Miller; cellist Myron Lutzke, and double bassist Michael Willens. Each one proved indispensable to these pointed and bracing, but ultimately mellow, performances.
In what became two Vivaldi sandwiches, the fillings were vocal pieces as sung by Judith Nelson, the American soprano (born in Chicago), a contemporary of the Californian Arleen Auger, and who, like Auger, has made the bulk of her career and success in Europe.
In the motet (with strings), "Nulla in mundo pax sincera," and the cantata (with continuo), "Amor hai vinto," Nelson showed again the purity and beauty of her tone, her ease and musicality in the face of any vocal hurdles, and a wonderful sense of repose. Visually, she disappointed by wearing a gown which looked to be appropriate only for menial tasks, certainly not for the occasion of making artful sounds.
As had been the case at the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra concert last week, no texts were provided for the vocal works. Shame!