If it’s August or early September at the Hollywood Bowl, you can expect Nicholas McGegan to drop in for his annual journey back to the 18th century. Thursday night, he returned with another configuration of an old reliable concept – an all-Mozart program.
This time, there was no sign of the late-summer blahs that afflicted the first part of McGegan’s half-Mozart outing last September; the chamber-orchestra-sized delegation from the Los Angeles Philharmonic played crisply and alertly at all times.
One reason is that McGegan managed to keep the concept fresh by dipping into some relatively underexposed territory in Mozart’s vast catalog, investing everything with the zesty tempos and life-affirming spirits for which he is known. Another factor was the Tel Aviv-born, 35-year old pianist Inon Barnatan, who has played here before but not as a soloist with the Philharmonic.
Barnatan’s vehicle was the Concerto No. 22 – which is often the lengthiest of Mozart’s piano concertos, depending upon tempo or choice of cadenzas – and he gave it an imaginative, animated ride.
He has a sharp wit to go along with his marvelously varied touch, a melting, rhetorical way of closing a phrase, pointing out every detail in the finale with impish delight that was clear to all from his expressions on the giant video screens.
The cadenzas were his own; the first with unexpected modulations into new keys, the last a miniature full of suspense. McGegan and the Phil seemed to be having a good time playing off Barnatan’s ideas.
McGegan led off with the brief Overture from “Idomeneo,” its foreboding aspects tempered by the brisk pace. Reaching back to his all-Mozart lineup here in 2010, McGegan revived three interludes from the incidental music to “Thamos, King of Egypt,” whose fast-slow-fast tempo scheme amounted to a short three-movement symphony and whose intensity points the way toward Mozart’s late operas.
McGegan closed with as invigorating and as satisfying a modern-instrument rendition of the Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”) as you’ll hear outdoors. All evening, the orchestra sounded larger than its numbers would indicate, possibly as a result of pumped-up yet solid, well balanced amplification.
The attendance count, incidentally, was amazingly consistent with that of McGegan’s concert last September – 8,883 in 2013, 8,804 on Thursday night. That indicates there is a pretty stable audience for this kind of fare.