The J. Paul Getty Museum's five-event summer concert program, with "Music and Mythology" as its theme, opened for business Saturday night with only the fifth performance by A Musicall Dreame, lutenist Michael Eagan's new vocal quintet.
Led, however, by a dream of a soprano named Samela Aird Beasom, and more unassumingly staffed by Eagan, tenors Jeffrey Thomas and Daniel Plaster, and bass viol player Mark Chatfield, Dreame suffused 24 Renaissance and Elizabethan numbers with such perfect intonation and graceful ensemble that the cold statues and marbles of the elegant Malibu setting seemed to come alive with past centuries' delicate passions.
As Eagan's literate program notes explained, the evening's intent was to evoke the spiritual adventures of the muses symbolized by a 1496 Franchinus Gaffurius woodcut titled "Music of the Spheres." Accordingly, an ingenious selection of songs and lute solos by Thomas Campion, John Dowland and other leaders of the 17th-Century hit parade sounded notes of idealized beauty, and love and its sweet mysteries.
The English set comprising the first half found Dreame at its best, emphasizing smooth tone production and avoiding the overly stylized nuance and rhythmic inflection that often distort more musicologically pretentious performances.
Throughout the evening, Beasom's small but radiant voice provided the musical high points from Campion's sweet "To His Sweet Lute Apollo Sung" to Dowland's "Behold a Wonder Here," which she illuminated as if she were setting stars into the night. Thomas, though his lower register trailed away unevenly, also provided some thrilling moments, as in the seductive optimism of Campion's "When to Her Lute Corinna Sings."
The group as a whole sounded less comfortable with a short French set in the second half but, after a return to simpler, more congenial English repertory, Thomas pleasantly crooned Giulio Caccini's "Odi, Euterpe"; then he and Plaster made a mostly triumphant tour de force of Claudio Monteverdi's thrilling "Zefiro torna."
The evening concluded with Eagan's own "Hymn to Apollo" for the entire ensemble, which inappropriately sounded like it came straight from the Andrew Lloyd Webber music hall factory.