With "The Ghosts of Versailles" across the street at the L.A. Opera, it seemed like synergy for the Los Angeles Philharmonic to be playing nothing but Mozart and Haydn this weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Call it a control sample of 18th century form, which John Corigliano would bend to his own purposes in his opera.
The concert Friday night featured British conductor Andrew Manze in his debut in front of the Philharmonic. It also was a comparatively rare opportunity for two principals in the brass section to step out with some solo vehicles.
Manze, who turned 50 last month, made his mark as a violinist in the period-performance world before taking up the baton — and that reputation follows him as he rises through the ranks of conventional orchestras. (He became principal conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hanover, Germany, in November.) Yet the sound that this tall, energetically gesturing figure got from members of the L.A. Phil goes against type.
Manze likes big, muscular, symphonic conceptions in which the tempos don't race and there is plenty of contrast between the loud proclamations and delicate responses. Mozart's Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner") was a good example of that, with only a few apparent concessions to period-performance practice, like the lack of vibrato from some but not all of the string players.
The L.A. Phil's principal trumpeter, Thomas Hooten, then launched a beautifully articulated performance of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, with subtle shading to go along with his clear, perfectly focused tone. Manze's contribution was big-boned, with tempos right on the dot.
Mozart's four horn concertos may be his best set of concertos of all, but you rarely hear them in concert, possibly because these pieces are not exactly walks in the park for the soloist. Yet principal French horn Andrew Bain was up to the task in the Concerto No. 4, producing a mellow, understated tone that contrasted with the zesty accompaniment. Bain's first movement cadenza was labeled as a tribute to Dennis Brain, the tragically short-lived, peerless master of the Mozart concertos, and his most-renowned successor, Barry Tuckwell, and you could hear some of Brain's joie de vivre and melancholy in it.
Manze polished off the night with Haydn's farewell to the symphony, his No. 104 ("London"), with sharp accented chords, considerable sturm und drang in the center of the slow movement and an overall sense of sweeping (not too fast!) power that looked ahead to Beethoven. The finale fared best of all, with an exclamation point of a coda.