Music Reviews : Sanderling Conducts Philharmonic

The romance continues. Kurt Sanderling returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic podium this week, and again elicited playing of remarkable depth, vigor and detail.

For some reason, however, Shostakovich has always been hard to sell to Philharmonic audiences. Thursday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, some of the crowd did not return after intermission for his Eighth Symphony. More fled after each of the first two movements, and some inexplicably waited until the final benediction, disrupting that in exodus only minutes before the end.

The final indignity proved cruelest. In this most Mahlerian of Shostakovich’s symphonies, the long march to apotheosis achieves not anthemic raptures, but only bits of forced joviality before sliding unexpectedly into serenity.


Sanderling worked with inspired purpose toward that moment, suggesting that the seeming serendipity of our encounter with the sublime masks inevitability. But as the behavior of a few members of the audience indicated, the triumph of beauty requires an act of will on both sides of the proscenium.

Those who made the effort were rewarded with a shattering experience. Sanderling stretched the mournful lyric insecurities of the first movement into a potent mass of tension, its worst fears realized in the rude brutality and mechanical obsessions of the following movements.

The haunted inwardness of the Largo comforted the ears, though not the heart. Then when all seemed lost at the thunderous apex of the finale, came that wayward blessing, banishing the suddenly exposed banality.

The Philharmonic gave Sanderling an intense, alert performance. Principals throughout the orchestra turned in pertinent, well-shaped solos, and the very full ensemble provided both steel and shimmer.

Before intermission came Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B-flat, K. 450, qualifying the concert as “A Mozart Bicentennial Event.” Marketing observances notwithstanding, the strong and characterful account from Elizo Virzaladze would be welcome in any year.

The Soviet Georgian pianist made her debut with an American orchestra here three years ago, also with Sanderling and Mozart. The combination is a happy one, Virzaladze’s nimble, nuanced pianism well-matched with the polished, attentively phrased accompaniment of Sanderling.