It didn’t take much imagination to predict that the stars would be in their
proper places for this past weekend’s Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts. With
Murray Perahia, our most serious romantic pianist, on hand to play Brahms,
and Kurt Sanderling, one of the last of the old-school classicist, involved
with Beethoven, Friday night’s program (repeated on Saturday and Sunday)
added up to a couldn’t-lose situation. And so it was. Perahia and the orchestra began with a spacious, warm-hearted
reading of the Brahms Second Concerto. It lasted nearly an hour, but it was
paved with gold all the way. Actually, there is no other way to play this work. In a meeting of minds that
bridged the age gap between soloist (42) and conductor (78), Perahia and
Sanderling mined the vast expanses of the Brahms for its fund of eloquence
and sweet poetry. The slow movement, brought on by the melting warmth of
Ronald Leonard’s cello solo, properly became the sort of quiet reverie that
you hear with your inner ear. The buoyant finale positively scampered. A routine program-planner might have scheduled the Brahms at the end, and the
quieter joys of the Beethoven “Pastoral” Symphony for starters. By
reversing the order, however, and by conducting the Beethoven in a manner so
miraculous that the work almost seemed newly composed, Sanderling sent the
crowd home with all kinds of new thoughts about this much-loved and yet
little-known flight of Beethoven’s purest fantasy. Do we, for example, pay enough attention to the miracle of Beethoven’s
instrumentation in this work — a quality not at all evident, by the way, in
the mangled version used in Disney’s “Fantasia?” Here, in the subtle glints
of this music, is the extraordinary case of a composer going rapidly deaf,
yet able in his mind to concoct a rainbow of sounds — the blend of strings
and a solo bassoon that rounds off the first movement, the music of the
second-movement brook, its own murmuring constantly echoed by other dabs of
murmuring in the woodwinds, the radiant joy of horns and other brass
instruments in the sunlight after the storm. All this came across in the quiet, understated Sanderling performance, in
which the overriding concern seemed to be the preservation of absolute
orchestral clarity. There was one miscalculation: the specified repeat in the
first movement went unobserved, and the over-all balance of the movement
suffered thereby. Still, there was the exuberance of Beethoven’s remarkable
invention, otherwise beautifully honored under Sanderling’s probing