Record collectors have known the name of Switzerland’s Peter Maag for several
decades. In the early days of the long-playing record his Mozart performances,
with various European orchestras, were regarded as beacons of clarity and
strength. Something must have happened, however, because Maag’s belated debut
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night in
the third in its skein of four all-Mozart programs, fell somewhat short in
both clarity and strength. Maag is now 72. He looks like Central Casting’s prototype of a distinguished
old-world musician, white hair and all. His podium manner is exemplary, modest
and direct. Joined by the pianist Peter Roesel in the C-major Piano Concerto
(known to movie buffs as the “Elvira Madigan” Concerto) he provided
orchestral support that was accurate and considerate. He even apparently
acquiesced to the pianist’s silly cadenzas (attributed in the program to
Robert Casadesus) and to his breakneck speed in the finale. On his own, however, the conductor introduced some strange devices into both
the opening “Magic Flute” Overture and the concluding Symphony No. 39.
Conductors obsessed with establishing their own recognition factor will
sometimes overstress some of the inner details in a score score, simply for
the sake of differentness. Maag laid himself open to suspicions along this
line. In the overture the conductor seemed obsessed with overstressing a line of
brass scoring buried in Mozart’s textures; in the concerto he more-or-less
invented a curious percussion effect; in the symphony he bent the recurrent,
garrulous theme of the finale completely out of shape by inserting a
gratuitous hiccup in each of its many recurrences. The good-sized crowd,
11,856 strong, may have thought they had come to hear Mozart; they ended up
hearing more of the conductor, less of the music. Moments here and there rose above this sorry norm, however. Conductor and
soloist did blend their resources beautifully in the slow movement of the
concerto: sublime, nocturnal music to blend with the radiant skies and the
full moon (if not with several passing aircraft). And, that one melodic quirk aside, the symphony did receive a respectable,
middle-of-the-road reading. It was, at least, a generous performance, with all
the section repeats observed. The wondrous clarinet duet in the Minuetto, as
played by Lorin Levee and Michele Zukovsky, could have been repeated another
dozen times with no objection from this corner.