High energy and bright tempos characterized Mainly Mozart's opening concert Friday night in Tijuana's Catedral de Guadalupe. Beginning this annual two-week immersion in the music of Mozart and his period south of the border underscored the San Diego-based festival's growth in Baja California, where one-third of its 18 performances are staged. Now in its 10th season, the festival keeps its roster of symphony musicians from all over North America mobile. From Escondido to Ensenada and Mexicali, Mainly Mozart spreads the muse in a dozen different venues.
Appropriate to Friday's setting, artistic director David Atherton offered an unusual sampling of Mozart's early ecclesiastical works, augmented with pieces by Stamitz, Rossini and Pachelbel. Mozart's Missa Brevis in C, K. 220 (known as the "Sparrow" Mass because of the Credo's chirping violin figurations) offered the evening's high drama, although Atherton's enthusiasm on the podium unleashed drama in the slightest circumstances.
Choirs from St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, San Diego, gave the mass its buoyant vocal quality, with the boy trebles crowing the sound with their bright, clear lines. Among the vocal soloists, soprano Virginia Sublett's effortless, creamy legato and Robert MacNeil's clarion but well-proportioned tenor contributions were notable.
Another choral offering, the Misericordias Domini, K. 222, revealed a contrapuntal genius rarely found in Mozart's early sacred music. The motet with orchestra bristles with rapidly ascending and descending lines in complex patterns, which contemporary composers are wont to describe as "computer generated." The St. Paul choirs rose to the challenge admirably, save for the basses, who appeared to have their heads buried in some other score.
Johann Stamitz's Orchestra Trio in G Minor showed Atherton's chamber orchestra in its best light. Rossini's Sonata No. 1 for strings and Mozart's Epistle Sonata, K. 263, added to the evening's effervescence; Pachelbel's Canon and Gigue would not have been missed.
The Mainly Mozart Festival runs through June 14 in various locations, in San Diego and Baja. $12-42. (619) 239-0100.