The Corona del Mar Baroque Festival is 7 this year--relatively mature as such things go, yet still a relaxed, chipper sort of affair. Sunday evening the festival began with an organ concert at St. Michael and All Angels Church.
Stanford-based Robert Bates, a specialist in French Baroque music, exhumed a short, minor work for organ and orchestra by Charpentier for the festival. Judging from his spoken introduction, the effort was solely for the sake of novelty. Labeled an Offerte but sounding more like an overture, the music proved pleasantly but forgettably ceremonial.
If that represented new old music, Handel's Concerto in F, "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale," was definitely old-old. Bates worked hard to individualize the piece, although backing the cuckoo calls in the second movement with an anemic Zymbelstern was not the best way to go about that.
Another Handel Concerto, Opus 4, No. 3, and the instrumental movements from Bach's Cantata No. 35, "Geist und Seele wird verwirret," completed the ensemble portion of the program. Bates played cleanly and crisply, and festival director Burton Karson saw to it that his ad hoc band faithfully echoed Bates' ornamentation.
The tie that bound the motley selection of solo works was Bates' expressive, varied registrations. The agreeably voiced, electronic action Abbott and Sieker instrument made nice Baroque sounds, although its flutes and wood pipes have more character than its reeds.
And the flutes and reeds figured largely in Bates' interpretations of Sweelinck's "Unter der Linden gruene" variations, a Magnificat by the shadowy Guilain and a chorale prelude by Bach, "An Wasserfluessen Babylon." Bates revealed a knack for the sprightlier works, his nimble fingers and feet providing clear linear distinctions.
Buxtehude's abrupt Praeludium in C, however, questioned Bates' powers of large-scale integration. But he quelled any doubts there with a solid, traditional account of Bach's "Wedge" Prelude and Fugue, BWV 548.