Beethoven is not a composer audiences immediately identify with early-music specialist Nicholas McGegan, especially Beethoven performed on modern instruments. But as music director of the period-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco since 1985, McGegan has been updating his profile over the past few years.
Next season, he is scheduled to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Pasadena Symphony, but on Saturday at the Ambassador Auditorium he joined them for vigorous and finely detailed accounts of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 (K.466), featuring pianist Nareh Arghamanyan.
The 23-year-old Vienna-trained musician is already a thoughtful and effective Mozart player. Though so far she appears to favor more romantic composers such as Liszt and Rachmaninoff, her stylistic approach in Mozart valued clarity of articulation, a firm tone and emotional restraint. As a result, her reading gathered cumulative power and an even deeper emotional resonance. She was especially moving in the pensive second movement Romance.
There are singers and there are actresses; there are entertainers and there are stars. And then, there is Bernadette Peters. On Saturday night, the nonpareil Broadway artist turned the Valley Performing Arts Center into her own personal salon, with magical results.
From first entrance in a glittering lilac gown that looked as if she'd been poured into it, the diminutive Peters held the capacity crowd in thrall. Launching a jazzy "Let Me Entertain You" with an insinuating focus toward the front row, Peters moved on to "No One Is Alone" from Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," and her delicately inward intensity hushed the house. Thereafter, she could do no wrong.
Visually, Peters has vaulted time with decades to spare -- her physical maneuvers atop musical director Marvin Laird's piano during "Fever" were especially delicious -- and her comic skills are undiminished, as when selling "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" to the men on the aisle. Vocally, the ineluctable timbre remains essentially intact, any loss of belting power or metrical freedom trumped by a near-legit purity in her upper register and a still potent ability to locate a song's emotional content.