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<<  -- 4 --  David Thompson    OF HEAD AND HEART

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I have to confess that my reactions remain confused. Let me say, however, that I have never heard an account of the Ninth that was better played or sung. Every considerable demand that Beethoven makes on both stamina and technique was delivered with a confidence and ease that was almost disturbing in its lack of struggle. Never, either, have I heard a performance of such perfect clarity, where every strand of Beethoven's argument emerged with such cogency. Salonen's performance was a model of understanding, and an excellent teaching-aid for the student of musical analysis. All praise to him for that.

The conclusion of the work roused the Prom audience to their 'Class A' reaction of prolonged cheering and accelerando foot-stamping from the attention-seekers in the arena, but then, any fortissimo gallop to the winning-post always does. The orchestra, soloists and chorus certainly earned those cheers. The LA Philharmonic are indeed a Rolls Royce outfit, and, at the moment, the BBC Symphony Chorus are a peerless ensemble of enviable virtuosity, well able to hold up their heads in the exalted company they were keeping. The soloists, too, were both a good team (very rare), and a fine quartet of individual performers.

So what was missing? I think the answer is humanity. This was a cool, detached performance: lucid, classically elegant, but, in the purely instrumental movements, at least, curiously uninvolved. I am genuinely grateful to have had Beethoven's intellectual genius so stylishly and perfectly unpacked. That was the glory of this performance, and it should not be underrated. But when Salonen finally discovers in Beethoven, that the master's heart is as large as his intellect, he might yet give us the ultimate Ninth. I wait in hope.

Copyright © 6 September 2002 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK

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