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McGegan Leads New Edition of Mozart's Requiem at Bowl


Imagine buying Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and finding a new character in it, say Scrooge's brother in a walk-on role. That's what it was like hearing Robert D. Levin's edition of Mozart's Requiem in its local premiere Thursday at the Hollywood Bowl. Nicholas McGegan led a modest and uneven vocal quartet, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Levin was the latest person trying to solve an old problem. Mozart died in the middle of writing the piece. His pupil Franz Xaver Sussmayr completed it. Scholars argue about how much he contributed but generally agree he botched certain things.

Levin, a Mozart specialist who appeared as piano soloist with McGegan at the Bowl on Tuesday, has tried to correct the errors. Most of his changes in this 1991 edition are subtle and effective. They include clearer orchestration (leading to better balance between strings and chorus), some added material (including an unfortunately awkward transition to the reprise of the "Osanna") and presumably a fix of Sussmayr's lapses in voice-leading and other grammatical issues.


Levin also introduces a whole new Amen fugue after the "Lacrimosa," basing it on the opening of an unfinished sketch for one by Mozart.

The new movement is severe, formally accomplished and interesting. But it is not particularly persuasive in light of the fugal sections already in the work. Nor does it establish its right to be there. Scrooge's brother, as it turns out, doesn't add much to the story.

Both here and in Bach's Magnificat, also on the program, McGegan inclined to fast tempos, unsubtle phrasing, minimal interpretation of text and toggle-switch dynamics--loud or soft.

He was an engaged conductor, however. He pumped his arms vigorously; he smiled and made coaxing gestures to the musicians. Unfortunately, all this activity didn't translate into much difference in what was heard. The music rolled out without much character.

The solo quartet in both works included soprano Dominique Labelle, mezzo Judith Malafronte, tenor Glenn Siebert (substituting for an ill Greg Fedderly) and baritone Nathaniel Watson.

The Master Chorale, reduced to 40 voices, sang with focused tone, although it occasionally sacrificed clear diction.

Some intonation problems aside, the Philharmonic, limited to a maximum of 40 players, played alertly and offered some lovely obbligato solos.

The concert opened with a diffuse account of Webern's brilliantly fragmented orchestration of the Fugue from Bach's "Musical Offering."

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