Intimate “Eroica” by McGegan and the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador

United StatesUnited States Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven: Nareh Arghamanayan (piano), Pasadena Symphony, Nicholas McGegan (conductor), Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena (California), 30.3.2012 (LV)

Mendelssohn: The Fair Melusine
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”

As so often happens, and as so proudly befits a city with the rich and diverse heritage Pasadena so modestly enjoys, the Pasadena Symphony came through with yet another miracle of music-making in its long, distinguished history. In transforming Beethoven’s mighty Eroica into human terms, the musicians and Nicholas McGegan took the audience in their grasp from the very first chord and held them there until the last.

In feat of spontaneous mind-melding, McGegan and the musicians found and connected to the music’s thrilling pulse; they were willing to be flexible and even expansive in their embrace of the music’s vast reaches, inspiring an audience delighted to come along for the ride. A Frankenstein-ish concoction—modern-instrument freelancers led by a renowned original instrument stylist—made the concert at least conceptually similar to what the first performances may have been like.

The Pasadena Symphony sounds like a totally different animal than it was under Jorge Mester: more intimate, less commanding, more emotionally open, less interested in proving they should be playing Disney Hall—which might be an interesting trade. Imagine Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic playing in the unique intimacy of Ambassador! It would be an impossible ticket to find.

The audiophile Ambassador sound was noticeable throughout the concert’s first half, when the band scrambled good-naturedly through the warm-ups afforded by Mendelssohn’s lovely overture, The Fair Melusine, after which Nareh Arghamanayan—with a new CD waiting to be signed after the concert—cruised effortlessly and elegantly through Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20. In the second half during the Eroica, however, McGegan and his forces ratcheted the involvement up a notch—as if you were in Beethoven’s living room.

Laurence Vittes