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Review: Conductor Nicholas McGegan, Haydn a fine match at the Bowl

August 22, 2012|By Richard S. Ginell
  • Trumpeter Alison Balsom joined conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a Haydn program at the Hollywood Bowl.
Trumpeter Alison Balsom joined conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Los… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

All-Mozart concerts are pretty common these days, but you’ll hardly find any all-Haydn affairs anywhere. With so much fresh, tuneful, inventive, often unpredictable material to choose from, you wonder why.

And after hearing Hollywood Bowl’s perennial Baroque-Classical-period guest conductor Nicholas McGegan take on an all-Haydn program with a chamber-sized portion of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Tuesday night, you will especially wonder why.

With McGegan’s impish grin, vigorous wiggle-waggle motions on the podium, fleet tempos and ability to inspire precision and zest, you get the feeling that Haydn and McGegan were made for each other. And McGegan isn’t afraid to explore some obscure byways like the three-movement, finale-less Symphony No. 30 (“Alleluia”), or the even-rarer, bright, crisp Overture to “Windsor Castle.”

And McGegan was only too happy to exploit Haydn’s marvelous sense of humor, highlighting the witty flute responses to the clipped strokes of the strings in the second movement of the Symphony No. 30, or those strange pauses and interjections in the Symphony No. 103 (“Drumroll”). 

The famously ominous introduction of the latter could have used more dark shading, but perhaps it would have been inconsistent of McGegan to let darkness shroud his perpetually sunny conception of Haydn.

There was also room for star British trumpeter Alison Balsom to make her belated Bowl debut, arriving in a striking, floor-length, predominantly aquamarine gown to play the Trumpet Concerto.  Her conception has grown more interesting since she recorded it some four years ago -- wider dynamic contrasts, a more dramatic first movement cadenza -- and McGegan, aided by some hotter-than-usual amplification, drew out counter-figures from the solo winds in the finale that you rarely hear.

Balsom’s encore was Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” which broke the Haydn monopoly, but the Argentine tango composer had the effect of extending last week’s “Americas & Americans” festival a tad.

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