Music Review: Mozart at the Hollywood Bowl

August 29, 2016 | By Theodore Bell | Category: Classical Music and Opera

Andrew Manze brought his early music acumen to the masses conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic with violinist Arabella Steinbacher in an all-Mozart concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 13. Manze made great choices for the program: Mozart’s enduring Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219 (“Turkish”) and Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”), his classic last symphony. Precede those with the Overture to Don Giovanni and you have an excellent program for the Bowl, full of drama, sparkling virtuosity and brilliant style. Mozart in his last days would have enjoyed having this music performed at a venue like the Bowl — finally breaking out to the masses with his best stuff. Ah, had only he known!

The music of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl is always a treat to the ears, but there is something magical about the venue that simply heightens the experience. This mild LA summer evening was perfect for an outdoor concert. The buzz of city life gradually dissipated as the stars brightened above the iconic façade and the picnics were folded up amid myriad empty glasses, giving way to the anticipation of a night with world-class performers.

Of course, Mozart could not have imagined the technology that would make that possible, but if anyone could pull it off, it is Manze, an undisputed expert on authentic performances of early music. The result was a special kind of Mozart, one that Mozart himself could not have imagined, large and vast, but still authentic in crucial ways, maintaining the elegance and classicism that Mozart elevated to such a high art.

Steinbacher was clearly comfortable with the concerto, in a way that only a life-long love can condition. She understood the place and purpose of each phrase to imbue an overarching prosodic character to the performance. Her virtuosic execution was brilliant and energetic, yet controlled and elegant. The drama was inescapable from the start as she boldly interrupted the tutti Allegro aperto with her dramatic adagio entrance and her powerful statement resonated throughout the Bowl. Like a deer in the headlights, the tutti orchestra was stopped in its tracks. She appeared stoic with relatively little body movement or facial change; her expressions were slight, especially at cadences. Her fingers moved flawlessly through Mozart’s virtuosic passages. Manze did not miss a beat at the finale, Rondeau. The alla turca was intense. Suddenly we found ourselves in a minor key and the cellos playing with the wood of their bows. Steinbacher’s elegance gave way to frenzy, her bowing dramatic and passionate. A wild ending!

Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 was wonderful, with a sound that filled the Bowl with all the energy that Mozart intended. The woodwinds — flute, oboes, bassoons — were spectacular both as individuals and in section. They blended extraordinarily well through the sound system and had some outstanding moments. Manze was graceful with the lyric themes — he produced a uniquely sculptured sound with the orchestra. He was masterful at juggling all five themes at once and joyfully weaving them into a finale not to be forgotten.

Intimacy at the Bowl takes on a different form, less acoustic and more visual with the help of the giant projection screens showing close-up images of conductor and soloists. Likewise, the performers are connected to the monitor speakers more so than to each other. Mozart never considered these issues — so is it possible to hear “good” Mozart at the Bowl? Sure — with the right conductor, the right soloist, the perfect program, and a full carafe with best friends!

—Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA

For information on upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.

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