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Music Review

Mehta Pieces Together a Mahler Puzzle

November 27, 2000|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

For some conductors, Mahler's massive Second Symphony is a problem of cohesion--making hundreds of small parts and five extended movements into an organic entity that flows, that moves through disparate emotional and spiritual states without contradicting or distracting itself.

That has never been Zubin Mehta's problem. From the first time we observed him conduct this apparently sprawling puzzle in musical wholeness, way back in the 1960s, his grasp of its superstructure has proved masterly, his polishing of myriad details into a clear narrative apprehensible.

The so-called "Resurrection" Symphony, a great and multifaceted work, has become one of his indelible signature pieces.

It could be no surprise, then, that at his latest return to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's podium, Friday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mehta presided over a thrilling and cathartic performance of the piece, beautifully executed by the orchestra he once led for 16 seasons, and with the accomplished assistance of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and two splendid soloists. It was an inspiring night at the Philharmonic.

All forces combined to display a continuity which, once achieved, seems inexorable. The Philharmonic's resources in re-creating this huge canvas have never been so broad, and the orchestra used all of them to express the emotional complexities in which Mahler uniquely specialized. The ensemble's first-desk soloists shone, but without interrupting the musical flow. And each instrumental choir added luster to the whole performance, while complementing their fellows.

As must happen for the work to succeed, the two soloists, mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips and soprano Heidi Grant Murphy, contributed telling, warm-voiced, emotionally charged readings of their important assignments. They were supported wholeheartedly by the tonal expertise and wide dynamic palette of the full L.A. Master Chorale, in its best voice. At the end, appropriately, Mehta shared his bows with the Master Chorale's music director, Paul Salamunovich. Also appropriately, those bows were extensive.

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