Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Brief Notes on Beethoven in Boston

While recently attending a conference, I took time off to attend a very alliterative concert. Harry Christophers helmed the Handel and Haydn Society in a concert devoted to Beethoven at Boston's Symphony Hall. It was satisfying and stimulating to listen to, as well as to name. My brain being reduced by the weekend's academic labors to something like mush, my notes will be brief. I'm making them anyway because Friday night's concert offered me the exhilarating experience of hearing a beloved composer in new ways.

The evening opened with a nod to Handel, with a crisp rendition of the "How Excellent Thy Name" chorus from Saul. The forces of the Collaborative Youth Concerts were impressively professional in manner and expressive in diction. I'm sure there's been scholarly ink spilled on the political and social significance of Old Testament oratorios, and the orchestra's vibrant performance had me wondering where I could find it.

The fortepiano!
Hearing the 4th piano concerto with the instruments for which it was originally written was a remarkable experience. The interplay between soloist and ensemble was vibrant and lively, and Robert Levin's performance was virtuosic. The dynamic variations had me sometimes almost straining to hear the sections marked una corda, clearly designed for performance in spaces much smaller than Symphony Hall. Still, I felt that the unfamiliar sound of the fortepiano helped me to hear some of the startling inventiveness of Beethoven's music. Romantic phrases almost reminiscent of Chopin may sound perfectly normal on a Steinway grand, but hearing them on the sort of instrument I'm more used to seeing in costume dramas than the concert hall was a revelation.

Hearing the popular Pastoral Symphony on period instruments is, among other things, a great way to (mostly!) disconnect it from the images of Fantasia. I loved the rich darkness of the strings, the delightful woodwinds, the vibrant and slightly unruly brass. I found the sections evoking the joyous country dances and the piping of the shepherds to be particularly effective. Of course, this is due at least in part to what I, as a twenty-first century listener, expect a shepherd's pipe to sound like. Also, I know the potential of clarinets for jazz (tangential thought: what would Beethoven have made of jazz? What might he have composed? Would he have gone drinking with Gershwin?) Throughout, the orchestral forces were responsive to Christopher's detailed conducting, resulting in nice variations in tempo and dynamics. I felt the performance brought out both the gravity of Beethoven's work, and its joy, both with exciting musical textures.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Start a conversation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...