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Music Reviews : Baroque Players Open Castle Green Series

January 12, 1988|JOHN HENKEN

There is very little that is simple about the fastidious observance of Baroque performance practices. The conventions change, quickly and inconsistently, with time and place.

On Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Baroque Players and soprano Judith Nelson--informed specialists all--offered a fresh, neatly constructed program in opening the "Early Music at Castle Green" series in Pasadena. So assured were the performances that the impression created was one of easy elegance, and even simplicity.

It helped, no doubt, that the music was not the most complex, profound or technically difficult of the period. Still, there were appreciable challenges for the players and rewards for the audience in trio sonatas by Purcell and Francois Couperin, and a Sonata a 4 by Johann Friedrich Fasch.

The Baroque Players--Anthony Brazier, flute; Ulysses Roseman Jr., violin; Frances von Seggern Bach, gamba; Neil Roberts, harpsichord--integrated embellishment into the musical fabric with practiced aplomb. There were moments of intonation and ensemble discrepancy, caused perhaps by the low pitch used and the extreme resonance of the Castle Green ballroom.

But the same resonance gave gloss and support to their efforts, without unduly compromising the clarity of individual lines. Nor did the opulent sound bar cohesive, propulsive rhythmicality.

The acoustics also flattered Nelson's cool, pure soprano, not that she needed it much. She sang sweetly and expressively, alert to unexaggerated dramatic point, always under control within the ensemble context.

Her pieces were two cantatas bemoaning the pains of love--"La Bergere" by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair, and Agostino Steffani's "Guardati O Core!" Nelson delivered the texts cleanly and clearly, coloring words and phrases effectively while sustaining the lyrical impetus.

Some of the instrumentalists had solo opportunities as well. Roberts prefaced the Couperin trio sonata somewhat stiffly with a Couperin prelude. Roseman and Roberts essayed a quirky, mercurial "La Sfondrata" Sonata by one Nicolo Corradini with diligent period bravura.

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