Times Music Critic

With another conductor, the drastic tempo changes might seem erratic. With Kurt Sanderling they attest to telling flexibility, organic transitions, masterful freedom.

With another conductor, the scale might seem forced and overblown. With Kurt Sanderling it seems natural, majestic, heroic.

With another conductor, the long-delayed climax might suggest bombast. With Kurt Sanderling it simply evokes inevitable catharsis.

Not everything was perfect Thursday in the performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony that marked the closing week of the Los Angeles Philharmonic season.


The vocal soloists--not exactly stellar--were consigned to the acoustical murk and dynamic imbalance of chorus-land, at the rear of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage. The Philharmonic did not invariably play with the point and precision one expects of a world-class ensemble.

Sanderling’s ideas proved so striking, so bold, so eloquent that they made the critical listener long for just a little bit more. One couldn’t help but question the quirks, couldn’t help but wish that all the brilliant intentions had been matched with comparable achievements.

The opening Allegro conveyed a sense of nervousness above and beyond the unsettling norm. Occasionally one was disoriented by a jarring detail of phrasing, such as the sudden staccato separation of syllables when the chorus roared “Seid umschlungen, Mill-i-o-nen .”

One couldn’t help but wonder why the Philharmonic hadn’t engaged a solo quartet worthy of the conductor. Terry Cook found the top reaches of his basso malfunctioning in the great opening apostrophe. Joann Pickens, the raw-sounding soprano, blasted the crucial high B for which Beethoven cruelly prescribed a decrescendo. George Gray, a potentially imposing Heldentenor , got swallowed up by the chorale just as his line began to peak. Claudine Carlson did what little can be done with the ungrateful mezzo-soprano part.


In context, however, the reservations resembled quibbles. Well, almost.

Without fuss and furor, Sanderling swept through Beethoven’s urgent passions and luxuriated in his lyrical indulgences. The Adagio soared, gently, to ethereal heights. In the final “Ode to Joy,” the East German veteran underscored the lofty Schiller sentiment with staggering force and inspired an awesome performance from the Los Angeles Master Chorale (prepared by Robert Porco).

For once the adjectival cliche fit: despite the flaws, this indeed was monumental Beethoven.

To open the generous program, Sanderling provided gemuetlich accompaniment for Young Uck Kim’s reticent, sweet-toned performance of the Mozart Violin Concerto in A, K.219.