There is nothing that says a musical prelude, whether to a single concert or to an entire season, has to be noisy and flamboyant.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic is settling into its long season by way of a so-called festival of music by Beethoven, incorporating in three programs all five piano concertos, played by a hitherto unknown pianist, and including only one symphony, "My little one," as Beethoven called his Eighth.
The idea is a bit daring, as well as a bit risky: Is there a public for so much quiet Beethoven? The choice of venue also involved chances: The ancient movie palace known as the Wiltern is a notable example of Art Deco decorative excess and has a certain charm--but it has not been extensively tested as a concert hall.
Someone made the right choices, however. The public turned out in large numbers, at least on Sunday night, and seemed eager, attentive and responsive. It also seemed to be informed: There was no applause between movements. And from a seat well forward in the orchestra section, the music appeared to be spreading evenly throughout the hall, assisted by a pale-gray shell to back up the musicians and to moderate the muted pastels of the room's original color scheme.
There was no problem at all in hearing. The soft places projected clearly in spite of a certain wanness on occasion, and the sturdier passages attained sufficient body and impact.
All this is tangential, of course. The music was the thing, and it pleased and held the public. There was nothing deliberately to stir up excitement, but neither did anything provoke drowsiness. The applause was hearty and by the end there were cheers.
Under the conductorial supervision of Kurt Sanderling, the music making was of an intimacy and polish of detail more like chamber music than a symphonic performance.
Sanderling did not intentionally repress; as always he chose the simplest way as the proper way, but a way so clearly divined and so profoundly felt that it made all the music sound newly fresh and refurbished. It is the sort of thing last heard from the late and beloved Eduard van Beinum. One can think of no more just compliment than to compare Sanderling with Beinum.
Where most conductors huff and puff through the "Egmont" Overture, Sanderling was all control and restraint, but restraint so penetrating that it lent urgent drama to the piece.
Pianist Peter Roesel was a dark horse. Hardly anyone in this part of the world has ever heard of him; he may have been Sanderling's choice. He was born in Dresden in 1945, studied in the Soviet Union and seems to have played extensively in international competitions.
For the Second and Third concertos he proved an ideal interpreter. He plays close to the keys--no arm pressure, everything is left to velvety fluent fingers. He plays straightforwardly but with microscopic nuance. His passages ripple, his tone sings naturally with no forcing. The ensemble of soloist, conductor and orchestra was exquisitely devised and as flawless as such things can be. Roesel is a miniaturist who can make less seem more. The audience cheered him after the Third Concerto.
The cadenza to the opening movement of the Third made many sit up and wonder why a cadenza by Brahms had not been heard before. But the New Grove has something to say about that. It acknowledged that Brahms wrote a cadenza for the Beethoven Fourth, but notes that the present example, "sometimes attributed to Brahms, is by Moscheles."