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Music Review : LACO Gets Back to Roots With Some 'Favorites'

November 19, 1994|HERBERT GLASS

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is increasingly returning to its roots in 18th-Century repertory, a decision that seemed to please the large audience present for the concert on Thursday at Ambassador Auditorium.

It was a return as well to the days when the guest director of the present occasion, Iona Brown, was a shining light of Neville Marriner's Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, when it specialized in the kind of music Marriner would eventually bring to Los Angeles.

There was the feel of those less hectic, less scholarship-dominated days, too, in Thursday's comfortable, often noble performances, as distinct from the hectic, short-breathed, gotta-dance rhythmic blowouts in which some period bands specialize.

The LACO program, in which Brown shared solo duties with the orchestra's ever-alert concertmaster, Ralph Morrison, comprised "favorites" we hardly ever hear in concert: music by Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi and J.S. Bach that the traveling antiquarians rarely program, in the belief that we've had our fill of them, when, in fact, the Baroque movements of decades past largely bypassed Southern California.

Backed by Patricia Mabee's busy, at times soloistic harpsichord continuo (another throwback), the 15-member string ensemble delivered with consistent suavity and exemplary balances, slimming its tone appropriately for the propulsive demands of Corelli's Concerto Grosso in D, Opus 6, No. 4, its first Adagio lavishly decorated by violinist Brown, and the A-minor Concerto (No. 8) from Vivaldi's "L'Estro Armonico," in which Brown and Morrison were at once well-matched and neatly differentiated solo presences.

Dynamic fussing gave an inappropriately Romantic, even bathetic feel to the slow movement of Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, and the slower portions of Handel's Concerto Grosso in A, Opus 6, No. 11, might have been more compact and angular as well. In the main, however, the concert showed what satisfying results a Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with reduced forces (and ambitions) can achieve.

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