Amplified classical music in huge outdoor amphitheaters has become part of the American summer landscape, but it is one thing to amplify pop music that has always thrived on amplification, and quite another to amplify classical music traditionally written for unamplified concert halls. At best, exquisitely matched choirs of instruments, unique instrumental timbres, and issues of balance and weight can be maddeningly difficult to get right. Amplification adds a technological dimension to all this that can vitiate even the most carefully calibrated performances.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s all-Mozart program Saturday night at its summer home at Encore Park in Alpharetta was admirably performed by guest conducter Grant Llewellyn and pianist Pedja Muzijevic, but the piano in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 sounded leaden in the lower register, tinny in the middle and glassy on top. Bizarre electronic distortions colored literally every note Muzijevic struck, addling his otherwise stylish phrasing and Llewellyn’s alert accompaniment. Although a secure keyboard technique could be discerned through the din, subtle gradations of tone were out of the question.
Mercifully, only the piano was poorly miked. Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” were notably warm, genial and transparent. The symphony’s third movement danced elegantly under Llewellyn’s spare but expressive conducting, and he etched the last movement’s dazzling counterpoint with pristine clarity and rollicking energy.