Vi­valdi hums in the hills

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Richard S. Ginell cal­en­dar@la­times.com

Hol­ly­wood Bowl peren­nial Ni­cholas McGe­gan teams with 20-year-old vi­o­lin­ist Si­mone Porter.

It’s as re­li­able as a sun­rise: a Ni­cholas McGe­gan ap­pear­ance at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl in Au­gust. The con­duc­tor was at his peren­nial Bowl gig again Thurs­day night, and as usual McGe­gan’s agenda was locked into the 18th cen­tury — all Vi­valdi this time.

Most of the Los Angeles Phil­har­monic had the night off, leav­ing a small crack di­vi­sion of string play­ers, plus key­board, oboe and baroque trum­pet. The stage, though, was far from bare, with three singers, one young ris­ing star vi­o­lin­ist and the Pa­cific Chorale shar­ing the space with the Phil­har­monic from time to time.

There were Vi­valdi con­cer­tos, but not the four usual ones. In­stead, McGe­gan led off each half of the pro­gram with a vi­olin con­certo from Opus 4, No. 3 in G, and No. 4 in A mi­nor, part of a col­lec­tion of 12 gath­ered un­der the zesty ti­tle “La Strav­a­ganza.” Nei­ther is very long, just around nine min­utes each, but they do give the soloist a mini-work­out.

Vi­o­lin­ist Si­mone Porter sounded re­mark­ably ma­ture when she played the Bar­ber con­certo here three years ago, and now, at just 20, her author­ity and ex­pres­sive range have grown even more.

Re­fus­ing to ac­cept the lim­i­ta­tions of pe­riod per­for­mance, she played hap­pily and grace­fully with a big, plush tone and lots of dy­namic con­trasts and drama. McGe­gan and his strings ac­com­pa­nied briskly, with plenty of brio.

The bulk of the con­cert was taken up by a pair of Vi­valdi sacred vo­cal works, the Sta­bat Mater to round out the first half and to fin­ish the evening, the Glo­ria. The mostly dark, mostly lugubri­ous Sta­bat Mater — not ex­actly ideal fare for the fa­mously easy­go­ing, al­fresco din­ing am­bi­ence of the Bowl — was nev­er­the­less a grate­ful ve­hi­cle for the ex­pres­sive, sooth­ing, beau­ti­ful tim­bre of the English coun­tertenor Tim Mead.

Mead was also fea­tured in the up­lift­ing Glo­ria, joined by a pair of con­trast­ing so­pra­nos, Sherezade Pan­thaki and Jus­tine Aron­son. At first, when paired, Aron­son seemed to have a more lyri­cal tim­bre against Pan­thaki’s mezzo-like col­or­ing, but a later solo show­case al­lowed Pan­thaki to dis­play her full, lux­u­ri­ously toned up­per range.

McGe­gan kept things mov­ing with his usual pep; the Pa­cific Chorale han­dled the choral stretches ad­mirably; and the sound sys­tem pe­cu­liar­i­ties heard on Tues­day were gone. (Thurs­day was the first of two McGe­gan dates this sum­mer — the sec­ond be­ing at the close of the sea­son Sept. 14.)

In­ci­den­tally, I re­cently lis­tened to a 1960 aircheck of the Glo­ria from a de­parted old friend of the Phil­har­monic, Carlo Maria Gi­ulini, lead­ing the Royal Con­cert­ge­bouw Orches­tra of Am­s­ter­dam with Elis­a­beth Sch­warzkopf, no less, as one of the vo­cal­ists. Ev­ery­thing is wrong by today’s pe­riod-per­for­mance stand­point, but so much else is right; the emo­tional and dra­matic power that Gi­ulini was able to ex­tract from this score is stag­ger­ing. Our un­der­stand­ing of Vi­valdi has come a long way since, but I some­times won­der whether some­thing has been lost in the jour­ney.

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