As beautiful as the Brahms performance was, it was not the primary draw to last weekend’s concerts. The big piece of music was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
We weren’t disappointed. The performance was magnificent.
The first movement was slightly restrained as if Maestro Masur was saving the big guns for the finale. The violas carried their stellar unison over from Brahms to Beethoven.
In the second movement, the timpani barked at us like a junkyard dog and Maestro Masur definitely let that dog off the chain a bit. The second movement thrilled with its wildness and promised a rousing rendition of the Ode to Joy section.
However, the heart of the symphony is the third movement. The opening theme on the strings melts the heart with its earnestness and sincerity. After the gruff and grumpy second movement, this introspective moment materializes out of the mists of Beethoven’s imagination as nothing short of a miracle.
It should be noted that things got a bit dodgy in this section. The woodwinds and brass had what sounded like an impromptu chamber concert in the middle of the movement while the strings accompanied. The distance between the instruments on stage did not make for an ideal situation to keep the music tight.
I have to admire the focus, concentration, and trust in each other that the players demonstrated. If one of them slipped, the entire structure could have buckled. I admit it was a little bit exciting to hear them hold each other together.
The finale was well paced and exciting with some excellent singing from bass soloist Richard Zeller. His voice was consistent and present from the top of his range to the bottom.
I was interested to hear the soprano Measha Brueggergosman but I ended up disappointed. There was no problem hearing her at all, her voice cut right through the orchestra. However, there was a flutter in her voice that disguised what her voice actually sounded like. I’m not sure if that is going to make any sense. Every time she sang I kept hoping to hear her but this fluttering quick vibrato was always in the way.
The San Diego Master Chorale was serviceable. For some reason the chorale was warming up in the east end of the lobby before the concert. I’m not sure why that was the case and I hoping it was purely logistical because it came off as being bush league.
I said it last time Beethoven’s Ninth was performed, and I’ll say it again this time: The San Diego Master Chorale is a fine group but they are not sufficient for the level of music-making that the symphony is trying to accomplish.
When they entire tenor section sounds as if they’re going to blow out their “O-ring” during their solo line, it makes an impression and it’s not a pretty one.
The Master Chorale sounded fine, even good at times but the sound was never exciting or beautiful. In contrast, the orchestra always sounded exciting and beautiful.
The symphony has addressed the trumpets this year; perhaps the quality of the choruses they use will be addressed next year.