By Don Heckman
“Midsummer Mozart” was the headline for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Thursday night Hollywood Bowl concert – the second this week with English conductor Nicholas McGegan at the podium. And, as with his dynamic leadership of a Haydn program on Tuesday, he again guided the talented Philharmonic players through a strikingly authentic set of interpretations.
Any well-performed summer evening of Mozart at the Bowl is a pleasure, and this one was no exception, despite the fairly conservative choice of selections. Opening with Symphony No. 32, the first set closed with the Violin Concerto No. 4. The second half was devoted to the Chaconne from Idomeno and Symphony No. 39.
All were displays of Mozart’s extraordinary blend of lyrical melodiousness and brilliant mastery of sonata form. But one couldn’t help but wonder why the program didn’t offer any of the more well-known, much loved Mozart classics – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the Piano Concerto No. 21, the Overture to Marriage of Figaro, Symphony No. 40 to name only a few. Yes, I know… from a producer’s or a programmer’s point of view, the works may be too frequently heard. But there’s no reason why – in a “Midsummer Mozart” program at the Hollywood Bowl, a time for relaxed, laid-back listening, at least one Greatest Hit shouldn’t have been on the bill.
That said, there were ample pleasures in the program. Among them: the lovely woodwind passages, beautifully performed, in both the Symphonies; the Austrian folk dance passage in Symphony No. 39, in which Mozart’s love for the clarinet is displayed in a delightful clarinet duo; the rich textures of the ballet music from Idomeneo.
And, best of all, the performance of the Violin Concerto No. 4 by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. In an evening filled with beautiful music, the Concerto, superbly played, Kraggerud stole the show. Much honored throughout Europe, he has also been seen with some frequency in the U.S., but this was his debut appearance at the Bowl. And the first thought that came to mind after his performance was simply – how soon will the Philharmonic bring him back.
Composed by Mozart while he was 19, the Concerto No. 4 reflects his deep understanding of the violin’s potential. Investing the Concerto with ample opportunities for technical display, he also incorporated passages urging the performer to freely explore its expressive lyricism
Kraggerud took advantage of every possibility the music offered, from soaring, high harmonic melodies to rhythmically surging double-stops and rich interaction with the orchestra. In sum, it was one of the fine solo appearances of recent memory.
No wonder the audience demanded an encore – which turned out to be a solo piece by a Norwegian composer. And no surprise that McGegan, at least a foot shorter than the towering Kraggerud, hugged him with sincere enthusiasm at the close of the Concerto. As I said, the high point of the night. It was Mozart as, one suspects, Mozart himself would have wanted it played.