One of the bright bonuses of this Mozart year has been the chance to re-examine some of the composer's familiar works with the ears and insights of a younger generation of Mozartean specialists.
Trevor Pinnock, who was 9 years old at the time of the 1956 celebrations, arrived this week to do just that, as guest conductor of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Thursday night, in Royce Hall at UCLA, and on the actual 200th anniversary of the composer's death, the justifiably admired British musician led the LACO ensemble in the first of three performances of an anniversary program.
A vigorous and exigent performing musician and podium personality, Pinnock seemed just the right person to inspire the busy LACO players to their higher energy level. And to their best efforts.
Both the program and the performances proved festive. The Symphonies in C, Nos. 34 and 41, framed it, elegantly. In the center were contrasting pleasures in two concert arias, "Chi sa, chi sa, qual sia," and "Ch'io mi scordi di te," sung most satisfyingly by Ingrid Attrot, and in the world premiere of Rand Steiger's Mozart-inspired "Woven Serenade."
The new Steiger piece, final installment in the yearlong LACO commissioning project observing the Mozart bicentenary, takes its title from the UCSD composer's compacting of five movements, "played in about 20 minutes . . . into a single movement" about half that long.
It is complex, gratingly dissonant, hyperactive, fragmented and fascinating.
"Woven Serenade" fills 12 eventful minutes with titillation and abrupt mood-shifts. In its first performance, it had the benefit of five virtuoso players: clarinetist Gary Gray, violinists Ralph Morrison and Jennifer Woodward, violist Roland Kato and cellist Douglas Davis. Donald Crockett conducted.
In the usually neglected arias, Attrot, a young soprano from Canada, displayed temperament, taste, admirable vocal control and musicianly instincts. Her not-large voice is most attractive at the top of the staff, yet she handled the rangy demands of these numbers--from A below Middle C to B above the staff--unflinchingly and within stylistic bounds.
At the beginning of this event, Pinnock led a fiery and commanding reading of the Symphony No. 34, one that reinstated the work's gutsy qualities as well as its musical depths. Together, conductor and orchestra accomplished illuminating contrasts in bright fortes and shimmering pianissimos, telling details, transparent inner voices. And always, there was the authority of rhythm--solid, irresistible, adamant.
The other revelation came with Pinnock's way with the "Jupiter" Symphony, a masterpiece which sometimes can sound artificial and pedestrian. For once, it became the product of real inspiration by the owner of a beating heart, not the working out of formulas by a bean-counter.