The program for the Friday-night event at the now-concluded third E. Nakamichi Baroque Music Festival promised "Music for the Coronations," but, even before the agenda was changed, that title was stretching it.
"Baroque Mozart," the theme of this year's festival--the gatherings of 1986 and 1988 focused on appropriately contrasting motifs--was to have been highlighted in performances of the "Coronation" Concerto and the "Missa Solemnis" in C, K. 337.
At the Royce Hall concert, K. 337 was given, though, of course it is \o7 not \f7 the "Coronation" Mass, as some may have been led to believe. That designation belongs to the composer's work numbered K. 317.
And, in the event, the "Coronation" Concerto was replaced by the Piano Concerto in G, K. 453 "at the request of Malcolm Bilson," the fortepiano soloist, according to an insert in the program.
With or without the crowning pieces, this performance by Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by Neal Stulberg, turned out festive, stylish and felicitously pristine.
All the performers--conductor Stulberg, the accomplished Bay Area instrumental ensemble, the Southern California-based vocal group I Cantori and all soloists--seemed to eschew overstatement in favor of modest savoring of the imposing musical values in this agenda.
Bilson made a virtue of articulate but unpushy tempos, myriad stylistic details and a directness of statement that never contradicted the seraphic nature of the familiar work at hand.
Stulberg and the orchestra brought irresistible grace and subtle resonances to the opening German Dances, K. 509. Assisted by I Cantori, they found Mozartean sobriety in the ear-opening deeps of the scarey Kyrie in D minor.
Then, in the brief but pithy "Missa Solemnis," all forces--with vocal soloists Judith Nelson, Lisa Turetsky, Frank Kelley and Douglas Lawrence--produced as serious and faceted a reading of this largely unfamiliar masterpiece as it deserves.