It was as if Antal Dorati and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra had been lying in wait for the finale of Beethoven's Ninth throughout most of their concert at the Kennedy Center on Saturday. They had bided their time with a nicely paced but mechanical performance of the first of Beethoven's symphonies. Although the orchestra had not always seemed comfortable with Dorati's tempos, particularly those of the second movement, which were quicker than usual, it chugged obediently through the music, producing a reading that had alacrity but little spark.
The Ninth began with sturdy solemnity. Phrases rolled by and inner voices had some unaccustomed moments of splendor, but there was nothing here to stir the senses or quicken the pulse. Dorati was conducting more like a disciplinarian than like a creator.
But then the last movement burst on the scene. With the opening notes, Dorati seemed transformed. He molded the cello recitative into a decisive and impassioned statement, and bass Victor Von Halem extended it with heroic declamation.
The University of Maryland Chorus, superbly trained, responded to Doraiti's every wish, their power and rhythmic accuracy adding to the mounting excitement. And the well balanced solo quartet of Von Halem, Linda Zoghby, Lorna Myers and Curtis Rayam put the finishing touches to a splendid performance of a splendid movement.