In addition to the longstanding financial woes plaguing the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra, the ensemble was beset by artistic troubles Sunday at Japan America Theatre.
The chief musical problem lies in the current state of the orchestra itself. Since 17 of the 21 members are string players, the ensemble stands or falls by the quality of string tone it produces. Unfortunately, on Sunday the strings lacked warmth, richness, eloquence, sparkle and even precision in pitch, and to that extent undermined a program of mostly unfamiliar works by Mozart, Handel and Haydn.
But also woeful were harsh, cold, intruding contributions from the two horn players, who sounded as if they were performing on natural, not valve, instruments.
Conductor/artistic director David Keith opened with a graceless, plodding and doubtless under-rehearsed account of Mozart's Symphony No. 16, though he managed to make some early passages sound buoyant and airy.
Things brightened somewhat in Haydn's Symphony No. 64, "Tempora mutantur," when he elicited more energetic attack and phrasing. He also almost kept the pauses and interruptions in the development of the sublime, Sarastro-like theme of the Largo from dissolving the sense of structure.
Probably the most satisfying playing came in a harp version of Handel's Concerto in B-flat for Organ, Op. 4, No. 6, with fluent, fleet-fingered Amy Shulman as soloist. With the exception of some overly faint echo passages in the first movement, Shulman brought vitality, warmth, transparency and precision to her duties, producing a wide range of tones. As an encore, she gave a fluid account of Prokofiev's rippling, vaporous Prelude in C.