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MUSIC REVIEW : Conductor Maag Shines in Mozart Program at the Bowl

It was definitely not business as usual.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic continued its mini-Mozart festival at Hollywood Bowl Tuesday sounding not a whole lot like the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Not necessarily better or worse, but quite different.

The 72-year old Swiss conductor Peter Maag was making his debut with the Philharmonic, and he apparently knew what he wanted and, better yet, how to get it--fast.

It was not that Maag’s interpretations were idiosyncratic, though they were, but rather that he managed to transform the Philharmonic’s sound into something distinctly his own. That sound merged smooth surfaces with expressive detail, breadth of phrase with lightness of beat, delicacy with point. It was old-fashioned Mozart playing of a distinguished order.

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He began with the Overture to “Die Zauberflote,” its solemn introduction pulled and stretched and almost stopping, but never sagging or inactive. He brought soft-edged accents to the main theme of the allegro and wrought hefty-though-not-heavy interjections from the brass, in a reading nicely combining grace with gravity.

His reading of the Symphony No. 39, K. 543, proved even more individual, especially in the finale, where he inserted a strange pause and two accents into the middle of the main theme and its recurrences. What this little twist illuminated perhaps only Maag knows, but intriguing it was.

He took the middle movements at leisurely tempos (forget about the most recent scholarship) and coaxed gentle lyricism from the orchestra, with woodwind lines emerging especially relaxed and glowing, all in an exceptionally broad dynamic range. The allegros flowed elegantly and with great detail of phrasing, rising to their big moments on their own momentum. This was not perky Mozart. But it was an utterly poised, richly nuanced and memorable reading.

In between, Peter Roesel offered an account of the Piano Concerto in C. His most interesting thoughts came in the familiar second movement, where his subtly shaded, almost whispered playing perfectly matched Maag’s soft and luxuriant accompaniment. But in the outer movements--despite his nod to novelty in his choice of the striking Casadesus cadenzas--the pianist proved satisfied with polished tones and unruffled expressivity. Neatly played but prim.

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Before the concert proper, Maag led both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Swiss national anthem, the latter in commemoration of the 700th anniversary of Switzerland.

Attendance: 11,856.


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