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Classical Music | Music Review

Mozart and Moonlight: Twice in the Same Week

July 25, 2002|MARK SWED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Hollywood Bowl would like you to think it's always like this: the weather warm, the moon full, the music Mozart. It rarely is, of course, but Tuesday was the pleasant exception, when even police helicopters were few and the audience relatively attentive.

Although Mozart has traditionally been a favorite composer for the Bowl, it is always a surprise when music this intimate actually works in a environment best suited for larger rhetoric. And perhaps it was that Mozartean fragility that inspired the Los Angeles Philharmonic to be careful yet not unclever in the selection of individual works and in their preparation.

The conductor was Gerard Schwarz. It is the first summer in 20 years that he has not been head of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in New York, and the Mozartean urge is clearly still upon him. The program was evergreen and almost failure-proof, working through Mozart's most alluring serenade, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," his most dramatic piano concerto, No. 20 in D minor, and one of his most enthusiastic and charismatic symphonies, No. 36 ("Linz"). The soloist, in his Bowl debut, was Stewart Goodyear, who cares enough about this music to improvise cadenzas.

There was one special precaution, and maybe a controversial one. Breaking with the convention of offering different classical programs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Philharmonic decided to repeat this Mozart event tonight. That provides twice the normal rehearsal time. (But it may also suggest that the Bowl no longer automatically expects an audience eager for classical music more than once a week.)

It would be an exaggeration to say that there were any revelations Tuesday night. But the performances were solid, interpretatively unobjectionable and quite well played. The dial twiddlers in the sound booth also had extra time to refine the amplification.

Schwarz certainly took advantage of his rehearsal opportunities. He likes a big sound and he likes speed and agility; his compromise is to drive a plush medium-sized orchestra with spirit directly down the middle of the road, never swerving left (into the no-speed-limit early music zone) or right (into the old-school Romantic approach).

The wild card was Goodyear in the D-Minor Concerto. The 24-year-old Canadian pianist played as though he were generally on Schwarz's wavelength--with the exception of his improvised cadenzas, he took the concerto at face value. If he did not bring an overly strong personality to the intense concerto, he nevertheless provided thorough musicianship and technical surety. And it is possible that there were subtleties to his phrasing and tone unable to survive in the great outdoors.

Goodyear's cadenzas were ever so slightly nervous-making. The few pianists who improvise these cadenzas tend to either immerse themselves in the Mozartean style (as does Robert Levin) or bring a more modern sensibility (like Chick Corea). Goodyear, in keeping with the entire tone of the evening, avoided either extreme. His improvisations remained mostly within Mozart's style, but only near the end of the first movement cadenza did he find his groove and start to build up sonorities that suggested something individual.

Still, it was a bold effort--Andre Previn, a master improviser, once said that he sweated bullets the one time he attempted to improvise cadenzas in a Mozart concerto--and whether he has an inspiration or not, his daring helps make the entire work remain fresh.

The "Linz" Symphony got a lively and lush reading. It was good to hear Schwarz, music director of the Seattle Symphony and Royal Liverpool Orchestra, play Mozart with a better ensemble than he usually works with. The Philharmonic here sounded like honey.

*

The Los Angeles Philharmonic repeats its Mozart program with Gerard Schwarz and Stewart Goodyear tonight, 8 p.m., $1-$76, Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A. (323) 850-2000.

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