From all accounts, the musical celebration of the French bicentennial is going fairly well — everywhere, that is, except in Paris. Here at home we’ve not done too badly so far, what with Pierre Boulez at the Philharmonic and Beaumarchais at Long Beach, and there’s more to come. It’s doubtful, however, if any musical salute hereabouts has been planned with greater imagination and resource than the Getty Museum’s “Music and the French Revolution,” a five-concert series that began this past weekend and continues on alternate Saturday nights through August 26.
Summer concerts at the Getty are now in their fourth year; word of them hasn’t spread too widely, for the simple reason that they have usually been sold out. I have no sensible advice, therefore, on how to get in, except that — if last Saturday’s concert is any indicator — it’s worth any effort. You might try a note from your doctor, or a Sherman tank.
This season’s series began with a celebration of a pre-Revolutionary event, important in musical history, although not much noticed by the Parisians at the time: Mozart’s visit to Paris around 1778. He came there with his mother, who died during the visit; he noted the specialized taste of Parisian audiences and wrote some splendid music to honor that taste. Paris was particularly gaga over woodwind virtuosos, and Saturday’s program began with a  flute concerto by Francois Devienne, dating from a couple of years after Mozart’s visit, lovely to hear and striking in the clear links between the style of this work and Mozart’s own inclinations at the time.
The crown of the Devienne concerto is the sweetly melancholic slow movement. It reflects its own past in its resemblance to the flute solos in Gluck’s “Orpheus,” and at the same time partakes of the exquisite brand of French-accented  poignance that Mozart brought, say, to the slow movements of the K-271 Piano Concerto or the K-285 Flute Quartet.
But the concerto was more than merely a historical exercise. It  had its own charms, and was exquisitely set forth by Stephen Schultz, playing a modern copy of a flute of the time, a handsome instrument in wood, with but a single key compared to the 14 on a modern flute. Mr. Schultz and his magical flute went on to light lights in Mozart’s A-major Flute Quartet (K.-298) and, with Kathleen Moon, the Flute and Harp Concerto (K. 299), burbling, joy-filled products of Mozart’s Parisian sojourn.
Stronger than either of these, in sheer emotional and inventive power, was the E-minor Violin Sonata (K.-304), terse but lavish music, the work of a young composer learning to distinguish the accents of his own musical voice from the formal cliche-spinning of the Deviennes and Salieris of the world. Violinist Gregory Maldonado, with Robert Winter at a handsome copy of a Mozart fortepiano, played the work for all its raw power, not a pretty-pretty performance but a knowing one.
In charge throughout the concert was Maldonado’s first-rate Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra. It is a splendid group; the sounds, even in the Getty’s handsome but acoustically iffy Inner Peristyle Garden, were bright and powerful; horns and woodwinds rang out with particular bravery. The group returns for the last two concerts in the series, precious programs indeed: Cherubini’s famous but never-performed opera “Les Deux Journees,” (with the splendid I Cantori taking the vocal parts) and — for the fellow who thinks he’s heard everything — Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony in the composer’s 1818 version for nine — 9! — instruments.
The setting was fabulous, the music close to that. Add to the quality of these concerts — with their introductory talks by Robert Winter and their handsome program book with excellent notes by Janet Johnson — the fact that the museum itself is kept open on concert nights, and you might suspect that the Age of Enlightenment may not yet have run its course after all.