Though an all-Mozart concert would not be the most glamorous programming imaginable at the Hollywood Bowl, it’s easy to make the case for the composer outdoors. He manages to satisfy everyone from the casual picnicker who needs little more than pleasant background sound to those who find in his work a bottomless well of joy and meaning. Mozart consistently tops polls as the most popular classical composer. And it seems the Bowl’s Mozart-interpreter-of-choice these days is Nicholas McGegan, the elf-like British conductor who led an all-Mozart program this week after having done so last summer.
McGegan, the music director of the Bay Area’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, is hardly the dour pedantic who concentrates on dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Yes, he insists upon and gets precision, but does so with a smile and plenty of animated fun.
Unlike last summer, when he restricted himself mainly to Mozart’s greatest hits, McGegan ventured a bit off the reservation Tuesday — and in one case, into unknown territory for most. He opened with three rarely performed or recorded, often-intense orchestral interludes from Mozart’s incidental music for the play “Thamos, King of Egypt,” which as played, in fast-slow-fast sequence, formed a compact three-movement symphony. The most interesting aspects of this music are what they augered about the then-20-year-old Mozart’s future; in particular, the premonition of “Don Giovanni” in the foreboding opening chords.
Though generally heard in more flamboyant repertoire, pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque were still able to assert their personalities within the genteel, objective framework of Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (numbered as No. 10 in the sequence of 27 piano concertos).
Katia, the live wire of the pair, tended to be crisper, more emphatic, lighter in tone, while Marielle sounded mellower and more straightforward in the first movement, and more flexible in the second.
Both traded lines with seamless mutual understanding, warmly supported by McGegan and a chamber-sized delegation from the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Yet it was only in the concluding Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”) that the real zest and joy of a McGegan performance burst forth from the Philharmonic — the slow movement enlivened with flashes of McGegan wit, the minuet fast but never rushed, the finale coming to a furious finish.
For those who keep score, the evening offered short weight — barely an hour of music — and McGegan limited himself to only one of his witty, engaging introductory talks. But he left the audience wanting more — the mark of every good showman.