Conductor Kurt Sanderling died on Saturday, two days shy of his 99th birthday. The Los Angeles Times has an obituary here and the New York Times here. The Telegraph, in its obituary, calls him a connoisseurs’ conductor, and that seems about right. He was never a household name, but it was a full life.

The notices fail to note the significant role he played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he conducted regularly and often in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was the Old World master that served as welcome and authoritative relief to Andre Previn’s dullness, and he helped bridge the gap between Previn’s and Salonen’s tenures, even taking the orchestra on a European tour in 1991.

I had the pleasure of hearing him conduct many times, including the first time the L.A. Phil ever played Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony. Sanderling was a wonderful musician, combining grace, intelligence and a certain sturdiness. He never phoned anything in.

I reviewed a performance of his for the Los Angeles Times back in 1991, when I was still a young buck. The review is below …

MUSIC REVIEW : Sanderling Leads Philharmonic
October 19, 1991|TIMOTHY MANGAN

“Kurt Sanderling Returns.” The ads put it simply. No hype necessary. Everyone knows the meaning. The words have a completely different effect on Los Angeles Philharmonic goers than, say, “Andre Previn Returns” (zzzzz), or “Esa-Pekka Salonen Returns” (!).

The words promise that the Philharmonic will perform a couple of notches above the norm, will reveal a mellower, darker sound and that some serious musical thought, Old World-style, will emanate from the podium. The 79-year-old German conductor, a regular visitor since 1984, returned Thursday to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for three weeks of concerts, and indeed there were no surprises. Promises kept.

His reading of Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony combined weighty rhetoric with rhythmic point, diaphanous textures with brassy fortitude. His conception proved characteristically broad and flexible — a huge unwritten ritard in a transitional horn line his only questionable decision in this regard — yet never sluggish. Accents were pertly, assiduously applied, syncopations especially snapped.

Others — Dohnanyi, Krips — have found greater bounce in this symphony, few have lent it more vigor and sweetness, none have uncovered its heroic declamations so convincingly. The Philharmonic offered a well-honed reading within a typically detailed and gracious Sanderling soundscape.

Kyung-Wha Chung was the evening’s soloist, in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. She dispensed with easy musical solutions and violinistic display. One was seldom overwhelmed by her fluidity of execution — generally impressive though it may have been.

Hers was an unflinchingly urgent performance, firm, almost square cut in its lyricism, crisply articulated and lofty of sentiment in dramatic statements. She offered concentrated abandon, not poise, with significant results. Sanderling supported her meekly at times, bringing matching gusto only to orchestral tutti passages.

The concert opened by way of novelty with Weber’s “Preciosa” Overture, in which exotic bolero and Gypsy elements give way to a rather routinely ceremonious allegro. Sanderling took liberties with tempo in the opening, in an otherwise robust and neatly executed account.