The Los Angeles Philharmonic is many kinds of orchestra, depending on the
circumstances. For the young conductors, it is quirky and edgy; under Andre
Previn, it matches his grayness; for Kurt Sanderling, it is somehow
transformed into a noble, resonant ensemble in the best European manner.
Thursday night at the Music Center, Sanderling began his annual stint that has
become a high point in every Philharmonic season; a large crowd made it clear
that he had been missed. Nobody in the orchestra has ever advanced a
satisfactory explanation as to why this venerable veteran, now 78, invariably
makes our local ensemble sound better than you’d think it could. It’s not a
matter of technical wizardry so much as simple mutual respect and love. “It’s
just that he makes us aware of the music itself,” one player once said. It’s
as simple as that.
Sanderling’s major work on this, the first of four programs he is down for
this season, was the Bruckner Fourth, that majestic symphonic corpse. It would
be stretching a point to suggest that he brought the work completely to life,
since that is a task beyond human capability. But he and the orchestra did
join forces in 75 minutes of marvelous sound-spinning, from the first
throbbing of the strings, like an intake of breath right at the edge of
silence, to the exultant hunting horns of the scherzo, to those final pages
(of triumph? or simply of relief?) when the heavens do, indeed, open and the
hot celestial light pours through.
That, one presumes, is why people bother with Bruckner at all: those hours of
pain and the ensuing moments of blessed release. In defense of the Fourth, it
can at least be ascertained that the work is shorter than some.
Miriam Fried was the evening’s soloist, the good Romanian-born violinist now
living in New York, one-time protegee of Isaac Stern. She played the Mozart
A-major Violin Concerto, for which Sanderling had wisely cut down the
orchestra to chamber-ensemble size.
Even so, she did not seem happy in the work. The term “dead-pan” is not very
kind, but it came to mind at many junctures in the performance. She used the
corny, sentimental cadenzas of Joseph Joachim, which strengthened the
impression that she didn’t really know, or care, what this lovely, unruffled
music is really about.