Sharps, flats and a natural: Kahane on keys

Times Staff Writer

There aren’t that many programs that inspire such happy anticipation as hearing a Mozart piano concerto. Unless, of course, it’s hearing three Mozart piano concertos.

That’s what Jeffrey Kahane, conducting from the keyboard, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra offered Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, continuing their 15-month survey of these works and delivering on expectations.

All three concertos -- Nos. 16, 18 and 25 -- date from the same miraculous year, 1784, in which Mozart dazzled Vienna with no fewer than six such personal and distinctive works.

Nos. 16 and 18 -- or in cognoscenti lingo, K. 451 and K. 456 -- begin with the same martial rhythm: the first loud; the second soft. The first has trumpets and drums; the second doesn’t.


Taking a cue from the scoring (there are structural, tempo and mood differences as well) or perhaps seeking to make a strong contrast between the two works, which he played consecutively, Kahane led the first with vigor, electricity and spot-on, punchy accents. The second, he conducted more lyrically and with gentler stress. In both, he swept fluidly across the keyboard as if he had no need to depress anything as mundane as a physical key to create a sound.

Kahane was not a fussy interpreter. He made use of light and shade tellingly, although he inclined toward faster tempos in the slow movements than would allow for deeper, more introspective discoveries. Always he delivered a rounded, pearly sound.

After intermission, trumpets and drums rejoined the orchestra for the majestic Concerto No. 25, K. 503. Here Kahane played with a brighter, more pointed sound in the slow movement and allowed a little impishness to surface toward the end. It seemed as if he added a little flourish of his own in one passage there, much as Mozart might have done. If not, it had that improvisatory feel.

Kahane played Mozart’s cadenzas for concertos Nos. 16 and 18. He played his own for Concerto No. 25, and it was stylish and arresting.


The acoustics of the Alex tended to wash out the subtleties of Mozart’s scoring, especially dampening the beauties of the winds. But horn player Richard Todd’s high notes in K. 456 nevertheless emerged with glorious, bell-like clarity, and the strings sounded wonderfully silvery in the heights in K. 503.

The concert also was the occasion to announce that Andrea Laguni would become LACO executive director Jan. 1, succeeding Ruth Eliel, who has held the post since 1997. Eliel will continue as associate executive director, focusing on fundraising for the orchestra.