Salonen's best moments, interestingly, came at the extreme ends of the scale. He was very good in the manic passages of the huge first movement, revving up hurricanes of sound just before the funeral march returned. He relaxed convincingly in the meditative midnight mood of the fourth movement, and he conjured some of the most lovely string playing to be heard from the Philharmonic in a long time in the lengthy, lyrical sixth movement.

Salonen’s best moments, interestingly, came at the extreme ends of the scale. He was very good in the manic passages of the huge first movement, revving up hurricanes of sound just before the funeral march returned. He relaxed convincingly in the meditative midnight mood of the fourth movement, and he conjured some of the most lovely string playing to be heard from the Philharmonic in a long time in the lengthy, lyrical sixth movement.

Yet Salonen is not a natural Mahlerian; he seems uncomfortable with the Austrian idiom of lilting rhythm. Much of the time, he pressed forward nervously , running past opportunities to point out details and feel the pulse. Some climaxes were constructed beautifully; others were spoiled by slamming on the brakes too hard and then racing out of the slot. To his credit, Salonen tries to be his own man, searching for different ways to say old things. But the elements don’t flow together yet, and the overall effect was that of a patchwork.

The Philharmonic could be excused for less-than-immaculate ensemble through much of the 93-minute symphony, par-for-the-course on opening night after the September break. Yet a team of women from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, in tandem with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, sang with exceptional point and clarity in the brief fifth movement, unfazed by the hectic tempo. And mezzo-soprano Birgitta Svenden conveyed plenty of soulful compassion in the fourth movement.

Esa-Pekka Salonen L.A. Philharmonic

(Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 3,200 seats, $ 46 top)

Production

Presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. Performers: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Birgitta Svenden, Women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Children's Chorus. Reviewed Oct. 8, 1992. At last, after three years of wandering in the wilderness, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has a music director. They made it official at 8:12 p.m. Thursday night when the 34-year-old Finnish maestro, Esa-Pekka Salonen, stepped to the podium to lead an exuberantly pushed, at times controversial performance of Mahler's gigantic Symphony No. 3. Often, the major work on a music director's first concert can be a tipoff to what makes the maestro tick. For Salonen, though, the Mahler Third carries more of an autobiographical charge than an indication of what his tastes are. It was in Mahler's Third that Salonen made his first big splash on the international scene in 1983, substituting at the last minute for the ailing Michael Tilson Thomas in London. The massive, six-movement symphony was also one of Zubin Mehta's favorite works when he was the Phil's music director.
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