By the time the choral finale rolled around, conductor Murry Sidlin, 50 members of the Long Beach Symphony, four vocal soloists and a 130-voice chorus seemed fully warmed up for the inspirational ode that ends Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The movement then received a tight and joyous, dramatic and controlled reading, bringing to a close the Thursday-night series of the Long Beach orchestra in Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center.
The success of that finale showed all forces in strong form. The large chorus, combining several choirs from Cal State Long Beach--splendidly trained by Lee Vail--produced polished and pure tone, a contained intensity and many more understandable words than one might have expected.
The reduced instrumental ensemble--a Beethoven-size orchestra, according to Sidlin--brought energetic attacks and full-range dynamics to the composer's varied demands. Among other prominent contributors to this cohesive, if arguably understaffed, performance were the cellos and string basses, a total of seven players.
The quartet of solo singers--Judith Caldwell, Kathryn Underwood, Jonathan Mack and Rodney Gilfry--coped bravely with their exposed duties. Through strength of declamation, rich sound and stylish delivery, Gilfry and Mack dominated.
Sidlin's forceful, detailed handling of each succeeding portion of this cumulative mosaic displayed again his clear authority and communicative leadership.
Unfortunately, the remainder of this intermissionless program occupied a much lower plateau of achievement and projection.
Sidlin's conducting of the same composer's "King Stephen" Overture failed to make the episodic piece cohere; in fact, the playing emerged as chaotic and disorganized as the conception. Since this is a work worth reviving, one lamented the apparently haphazard way Sidlin revived it.
The opening portions of the Ninth fell into the same category of unfinished business. A lack of contrasts, depth and continuity gave the first movement a sense of aimlessness inappropriate to its content.
In the Scherzo, more substance was revealed, but the coloristic palette remained limited. The slow movement began to expand in terms of instrumental resources and expressiveness, a quality of linearity emerged, and balances fell into place. Yet, even here, a feeling of less-than-complete preparation lingered. Only with the arrival of the finale did this strange performance change its course.