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Opening notes in a big concert of celebration

Mozart concertos are an early birthday party at Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concert.

January 24, 2006|Mark Swed | Times Staff Writer

The countdown has begun. He was born, 250 years ago Friday, on a bitter cold day in Salzburg, Austria, and baptized the next day as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus. He would eventually assume the Latin form of Theophilus, which is Amadeus, and favor the French, Amade.

Come Friday, the Mozart floodgates will open wide. Classical radio stations the world over will play Mozart around the clock, some for days on end. At the moment, musical pilgrims are packing snow boots and heading to Salzburg and Vienna for Mozart exhibitions, Mozart confections and Mozart street parties -- and yes, Mozart's music. But already the angelic Amade is filling concert halls and record stores everywhere (and their online equivalents). There is no escaping this miraculous composer this season or next -- not that he's exactly ignored in non-anniversary years.

It will surely be too much. It may already be too much.

Or so I thought at 6:30 Sunday night heading to Royce Hall, where the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was about to play the first of seven programs over 15 months devoted to the 23 piano concertos, conducted from the keyboard by Jeffrey Kahane. Then I saw the line of cars.

UCLA is not normally as popular as it once was for classical concerts, but Mozart easily sold out Royce. Still, I worried. Did these people really want to hear three Mozart piano concertos in a row, two of them audacious adolescent works, the third a product of his prolific assembly-line early maturity?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Music director -- A review of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in Tuesday's Calendar said that its music director, Jeffrey Kahane, is in his first season as music director of the Denver Symphony. It is the Colorado Symphony.

By 9:15, when Kahane could not get the players to stand and take a bow (orchestras remain seated in special tribute to conductors) and the audience was roaring its approval, I no longer had the slightest concern about the Mozart glut. We may all feel different next year. But this was a terrific, life-affirming concert that started with gusto and just kept getting better. And everyone in Royce knew it.

It was Mozart's evening, of course, but it was also Kahane's. Now in his ninth season as LACO's music director, Kahane has always generated respect for his musicianship, his pleasing energy, his devotion to the classical repertory. A superb pianist, he has grown as a conductor. Still, LACO has, under him, sometimes lacked a certain sense of with-it-ness.

That is changing. Kahane's career is taking off. He began his first season as music director of the Denver Symphony in the fall. The week after next, he will make his New York Philharmonic debut conducting and playing Mozart. He has even gotten the attention of National Public Radio. KUSC is broadcasting the LACO Mozart concerto cycle, and NPR has picked up the concerts for national distribution.

Sunday's program of all major-key concertos began sort of at the beginning with the Concerto No. 5 in D, K. 175. It was written when Mozart was 17 and is the work of a composer in first bloom; the first four concertos were transcriptions of other composers' scores made six years earlier as training exercises (and LACO will reasonably ignore them). The fast bits are a bit pro forma. The slow movement shows a teenager's heavy hand. But the voice is unmistakable, and the lyrical touch remarkable.

Next was the No. 9 in E flat, K. 271, Mozart's first major concerto. He was 21. His young adult hand is even heavier, but the lyrical glow is also glowier. There is a luminescence thus far unprecedented in his music.

The Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453, is wise music. Ten arguably even finer concertos were yet to come. But this is a preview of the "Marriage of Figaro" Mozart, the Mozart of sizzling social interactions. The piano comes close to being an operatic character. We may not know quite who, but we recognize her wistful sensuality and verve.

Kahane dashed through the three concertos with winning joyfulness. There were rough edges in the first two in the fastest passagework, but his fluidity was breathtaking. And he was even more appealing when he slowed down for grand manner lyricism, full of majesty and grace.

It would be hard to say what Mozart style Kahane represents. He can be speedy and light enough not to alienate period practice nuts. He has a natural affinity for classical balance. But he favors a big piano sound. In the slow movements, he showed us the Mozart Chopin loved.

The orchestra clearly enjoyed itself Sunday. It too was not flawless in the early concertos, but it brought a big and bold sound to No. 17 and all the verve the piece could withstand (which is a lot).

Buy your tickets now for the rest of the series (they won't be easy to come by), and set your radio dial for this first concert's rebroadcast on Friday. It looks as if Amade can't help but have a happy birthday.

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