Since its birth, back in 1969, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has been a Mozart band operating within a wide-ranging repertory. In its rebellious adolescence, under Gerard Schwarz, it developed an expertise in the music of the 20th century, though the orchestra's specialization in Mozart remained a given. Later, the organization focused on its Baroque roots under the admirable Iona Brown, still keeping Mozart at the center of its world. And the orchestra's long-standing gig as pit band for L.A. Opera has only strengthened its expertise in music of the master of Salzburg.
This week, in two separate programs at the Hollywood Bowl, and with its new music director-designate, Jeffrey Kahane, taking a central role, LACO continues its accomplished championship of Mozart.
Tuesday night, seemingly undeterred by the heat wave, Kahane guided his associates through familiar, and thus exposing, Mozartean territory. All participants, including a friendly audience, seemed to profit from the juxtaposition of the "Don Giovanni" Overture to start, the "Prague" Symphony to close and, in between, the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K. 503.
From the outset, with the "Star-Spangled Banner," Kahane displayed ample seriousness and a long musical line. With the all-important commencement of "Don Giovanni," the 40-year-old conductor coaxed from his colleagues high stylishness and telling details, underlining dramatic elements in the operatic score.
At the end, these same qualities--including clarity of solo lines and vivid instrumental balances--informed the arc Kahane produced in the Symphony No. 38, a sense of accumulation and progress through its compacted length. The orchestra played splendidly, particularly in the Andante, where it is most revealed, and in the finale, another potential vulnerability.
Kahane balanced his conducting duties with those of soloist as well, in an aristocratic reading of K. 503 achieved without self-consciousness or grandstanding. The demanding piano part flowed and sang forth, and his leadership duties never gave in to distractions. Through it all, the orchestra played with great good humor.
Kahane's tenure as LACO music director begins formally in September; it only bodes well for the orchestra as it nears its 30th anniversary.
Jeffrey Kahane conducts the L.A. Chamber Orchestra and serves as soloist in another all-Mozart program--"Clemenza di Tito" Overture, Piano Concerto in A, K. 488, Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter")--tonight at 8:30, the Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., $1-$75. (213) 850-2000.