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Baroque for `Lovers' at Villa

Julianne Baird and the Aulos Ensemble give fine performances of the less-than-great cantatas pulled together in the Getty's program.

February 05, 2007|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

The Getty Museum likes to synchronize its musical presentations with artistic exhibitions from the same period, but sometimes that proves to be something of a stretch.

Take Saturday night (and Sunday afternoon), when the long-running Aulos Ensemble and early-music luminary Julianne Baird (soprano) arrived at the Getty Villa with a program of French Baroque music titled "Star-Crossed Lovers."

There were no exhibitions in the Villa specifically tied to this program, and the civilizations from the Stone Age to the Romans would have never heard music like this. However, the "lovers" on the agenda do appear in their mythologies, so that counts. Throw in a mention of Valentine's Day -- a mere 11 shopping days away -- and voila! a program.

Alas, these ingredients were not enough to create a stimulating evening of music.

The myths may have been familiar, but the music was, by and large, not -- and there were no texts or translations in the printed program to guide us. The performers tried to make an asset of this, referring to the authentic "oral" tradition of relaying information -- and in that spirit, harpsichordist Arthur Haas and Baird gave brief, charming synopses of the myths upon which the three featured cantatas were based. However, these verbal prefaces were let down by the mostly innocuous scores that followed.

The cantatas were Joseph Bodin de Boismortier's "Diane et Acteaon," Louis-Nicolas Clerambault's "Leander et Hero" and Michel Pignolet de Monteclair's "Pan et Syrinx." The Monteclair work had the widest emotional range and most diverse scoring, while Clerambault's work (which has been recorded several times) was mainly distinguished by a short, vivid central storm episode. Yet for all of Baird's wealth of expression and nuance, her voice often mimicking the swelling attacks of period string instruments, none of these pieces really came to life.

Between the cantatas, Haas and his Aulos cohorts (Christopher Krueger, flauto traverso; Marc Schachman, baroque oboe; Linda Quan, baroque violin; William Skeen, baroque cello) offered selections by two more-celebrated contemporaries -- a suite from Rameau's "Les Fetes d'Hebe" and an arrangement of "Les Baccanales" from Couperin's Pieces de Clavecin.

While the Rameau went reasonably well, the group's playing turned somewhat scrappy in the lively Couperin material, as well as in some of the cantatas. The Getty auditorium, which seats about 250, projected the period-instrument sound brightly but with little resonance.

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