Known far and wide as a baroque and classical master, Nicholas McGegan instead came to Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday afternoon to try his hand at Mahler for the first time with the Pasadena Symphony.
Don’t be too surprised. Fellow “specialist” Roger Norrington also conducts Mahler. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts Bruckner. Christopher Hogwood does Stravinsky. They refuse to be confined to their pigeonholes, so why should McGegan?
In any case, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 was the perfect choice for McGegan. It is the lightest, most chamber-like of the 10 symphonies and also the most suited for his cheerful musical personality. And he did some wonderful things with it — overall, the freshest live performance I’ve heard of this in some time.
McGegan brought his period-performance experience to play by observing Mahler’s meticulous instructions (which many don’t). He gave the opening movement a lively, happy buoyancy, moving headlong through the second movement, no self-conscious lingering in either.