What a joy it was to hear a concert again in the airy, resonant ambiance of Santa Ana High School Auditorium when conductor Ami Porat opened the Mozart Camerata's new season at the venerable facility on Saturday.
Porat seemed to respond with equal enthusiasm to the hall, offering some ebullient, vivid readings in a program that included music by Mozart, Franz Benda, Haydn and J. C. Bach.
But perhaps most memorable was Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, with soloist Yukiko Kamei venturing a modern, thinking person's Mozart. Kamei made a case not for a bashful, charming adolescent work but for one of small but substantial commanding presence with a hint at times of brash self-confidence.
The violinist did not try to cajole or seduce through sweetness, warmth or rich beauty of tone, or by shaping or lingering on lyric phrasing. She offered instead a lean, incisive, muscular sound, one utilizing only a light vibrato. At times, her playing seemed stripped to the bone and then proved affecting in its defenseless vulnerability.
Porat accompanied affectionately, though the orchestra did not mirror Kamei's stylistic approach or type of sound and seemed blurry and heavy in comparison.
Now if only the powers-that-be at Santa Ana will properly light the soloist. Kamei's face was often lost in shadows.
Overall, the Camerata, which was founded in 1980 and reorganized in 1985, showed impressive ensemble work--with strong, clean lines; precise, unified bowings and well-nourished and balanced sound, marred only occasionally by edgy or slightly shrill strings.
Benda's Sinfonia in C, reportedly rediscovered after decades of neglect on a library shelf in Prague, proved a happy cross between the southern warmth of Pergolesi and the rhythmic uprightness of Boyce and nodded also toward both Handel and Mozart. Porat made much out of its surprising changes in dynamics and phasing.
Haydn's Symphony No. 43 in E-flat, "Mercury," was given a spirited, strong and intelligent reading but something seemed to be missing: maybe sufficient contrast between thematic groups or variety of shading. At any rate, there was suave passage work as well as substantial bustling but not enough crackling energy or wit.
Porat opened the program with a lively, infectious account of J.C. Bach's Sinfonia in B-flat, Opus 3, No. 4.