Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond


April 15, 2012


And just like that the Los Angeles Philharmonic serves up arguably the second greatest performance of their 2011/2012 season so far. It was this past weekend and hopefully you didn’t miss it. Like many of the orchestra’s best performances these days, it can creep up at unexpected times with unlikely personnel. But for perhaps the first time since Salonen’s leadership during last Fall’s performances of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 and fragments from Orango the orchestra achieved a certain unassailable height that didn't require a fancy PR campaign to convince anyone of its value. (On a side note, that great performance will be included as part of the L.A. Phil broadcast series on KUSC on May 13 at 4pm PST, so mark your calendar.) This time around the conductor was Herbert Blomstedt and the program featured one work, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. It’s an astonishing piece of music that stands apart even from the composer’s other late works. The choral writing is fiendishly difficult and runs nearly the entire length of the performance. There are four soloists who don’t really act so much as soloists as they do a vocal quartet constantly interacting with one another exchanging musical elements back and forth. And at an uninterrupted hour and a half it’s a large piece of music with a high level of integration between performers and a constant wellspring of constantly changing musical material.

Blomstedt delivered an incredibly well proportioned performance that achieved success in nearly every category. He knows that the chorus is the centerpiece here and his attention to the amazing members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, building on the work done with their Music Director Grant Gershon, was clear. They outdid themselves this weekend with an at times thundering and at others heart-wrenching performance. Their contribution to the success of this performance cannot be understated. The four vocal soloists meshed perfectly without an ounce of sourness. Soprano Ruth Ziesak, mezzo Gerhild Romberger, tenor Richard Croft, and bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann are not necessarily household names, but the beauty of their ensemble singing put such issues out of anyone’s mind. The orchestra was warm and relaxed, and while there were some sloppy attacks here and there on Sunday, the orchestra seemed tuned into a kind of mysterious quality at the heart of this mass. Even Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour got into the act with the flawless and stirring high violin solo in the Benedictus. Beethoven famously finishes the work rather unceremoniously, but on this afternoon with the quality of performance the assembled players and Blomstedt had just presented proved a bigger finish wasn’t really necessary. Most everyone had long ago been blown away.

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I thought this was one of the finest things I'd heard at LA Phil in quite some time. One of my frequent complaints about the Master Chorale is the lackluster soloists they use in their own concerts. It was great to hear them paired with a set of world-class soloists. And the orchestra tore it up, passionate & concentrated.
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