Woody and mellow, the sounds of authentic instruments--originals and copies of originals--can bring new life to music of earlier times. Such sounds, produced by the 12-year-old British ensemble, the Academy of Ancient Music, promised a pops program of Bach works on the night of the composer's 300th birthday, when the Academy came to Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena on Thursday.
For the most part, the promise was kept. Christopher Hogwood, founder of the 30-member ensemble--24 of whom, with keyboardist Hogwood and two solo singers, appeared here--led the Orchestral Suite No. 3, Cantatas Nos. 202 and 82, and the Concerto for two violins without mishap, and as stylishly as one has come to expect. Though this was a first visit here by the complete ensemble, Hogwood himself is by now a familiar musical figure in Southern California.
Yet these were mostly low-energy performances, earnest but routine, from an adept group of players who seemed tired.
There was one inspired moment, however, when basso David Thomas produced, in the aria "Schlummert ein" in Cantata 82, the perfect combination of musical and textual point and an ecstatic, non-verbal otherworldliness. This Bachian high mark, achieved with the simplest of means and no interpretive affectations whatsoever, made this otherwise earthbound occasion special.
In Cantata 202, "Weichet nur, betruebte Schatten," Emma Kirkby used her plain but pure soprano in the service of linear projection and nice word-point; the result, marred only by scrappy playing from the instrumental ensemble, proved disarming. The oboe obbligatos in the cantatas were handled neatly by Clare Shanks.
In the Double Concerto, violinists Katherine Mackintosh and Christopher Hirons gave workmanlike accounts of the solo parts. The ensemble opened the evening casually, with an unfocused, unbalanced and scattershot run-through of the Suite No. 3.