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Review: Some seriously gutsy Mozart stands out at the Hollywood Bowl

Arabella Steinbacher performs Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5.
Arabella Steinbacher performs Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

With Gustavo Dudamel packing up and headed to perform in Austria after his most extensive stand yet at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Philharmonic geared up for its annual August succession of guest conductors. Or should we say part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as only a small band of players were onstage Tuesday to greet the British conductor Andrew Manze in an all-standard-issue Mozart concert.

It looked like an ample crowd in the vast Bowl that night. (As of this summer, the Bowl doesn’t post attendance numbers after decades of doing so, and a spokeswoman said Wednesday that figures were not yet in.) Mozart must be a draw to those who look for seemingly soothing after-dinner music.

So I imagine that some picnickers had to be startled by the loud, stern, portentous D-minor chord that opened Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni” — even more portentous than usual in Manze’s hands. Some serious business was happening.

This, and a lot of what followed, was consistent with Manze’s debut with the L.A. Phil in similar repertoire at Disney Hall in February 2015. Now as then, he went for gutsy, big-boned, large-scale conceptions of Mozart, nothing precious or excessively polite. The tempos were comfortably paced down the middle, no race-track speeds.

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Manze has a reputation as a period-performance man, but there was very little of that within earshot Tuesday aside from the reduced ranks of the orchestra, which sounded larger than its numbers. Some might wonder whether the loud, initially coarse amplification was a factor, but again, what I heard was consistent with Manze’s sound under unamplified conditions.

Arabella Steinbacher, the 34-year-old German-born violinist, was the focal point in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (nicknamed “Turkish” for its militant, highly-rhythmic interlude within the Finale), of which she made a rather gracious recording for PentaTone, serving as soloist and leader. This time, faced with the more incisive Manze approach, she adjusted her bearings, quickening her tempos somewhat, applying plenty of sharp rhythm yet without forcing her tone.

Steinbacher also could sustain the long lines smoothly in the second movement, and the “Turkish” music in the finale had a tough-minded thrust.

More powerhouse Mozart concluded the evening in the form of the Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”), the composer’s last, longest and grandest. The “Jupiter” could take the robust, at times brusque, dynamically wide-ranging Manze treatment jolly well, all the way to the slam-bang juggernaut of counterpoint near the close of the finale.

As before, Manze seemed intent upon establishing Mozart as the direct precursor of Beethoven, whether in the relatively early violin concerto or the mature Mozart of “Don Giovanni” and the “Jupiter” Symphony.

That progression will culminate Thursday night when Manze takes up Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and the subsequent sprawl of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9.

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.

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