The winking marquee of the old downtown Los Angeles Theater advertised a pair of war films--an unlikely location for one of the Da Camera Society's "Chamber Music in Historic Sites" events.
But once into the 1930s, mock-schlock Versailles lobby, with video game machines and automatic drink dispensers cheek-by-jowl with crystal fountains and cracking plaster gods, the theater palace environment proved surprisingly well-suited to the Mozart program presented on Monday by America's outstanding period-instrument band, the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.
The vast rococo auditorium, badly in need of patching and sprucing, is worth saving from its intended fate as a swap-meet hangar--and not only for its kinky charm. The house has a warmly resonant acoustic, reminiscent of the courtly musical venues of Europe.
The Monday concert began suitably with the pretend-naivete of "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" in a reading of pristine elegance--an insistent ventilator-motor obbligato notwithstanding--by conductor Nicholas McGegan and his gentle-toned strings.
Judith Nelson, the soloist of the evening, applied her virginal, accurate soprano to the boy composer's motet "Exsultate, jubilate," the orchestra's agile flutes hovering about the voice like a pair of ecstatic woodland birds. The soprano also presented a rare concert aria by the mature Mozart, "Basta vincesti," K. 486a, which would have made a stronger impression in a more outgoing, operatic interpretation than Nelson's.
Two works dating from the composer's 16th year rounded out the program: the familiar Divertimento in D, K. 136, and an uncommon delicacy, the Symphony No. 21 in A, K. 134, with its countless harmonic surprises--both played with airborne grace and optimum verve.
And so we leave Mozart's Salzburg and California's faded dream of the French court, a huge wad of spent chewing gum on the bottom of the reviewer's shoe jolting us back to the reality of Sixth and Broadway.