Thursday, August 29, 2013

Haitink Conducts Beethoven's Ninth at Tanglewood

Haitink Conducts Beethoven's Ninth 

Review: BSO closes with joy and majesty

Leonard Bernstein on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Beethoven's Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna with Leonard Bernstein

It's not often that I can acquaint my readers with a musical event that I have actually attended. In this case though, not actually the performance you might get to hear at the first link on this page, but the rehearsal the previous morning. Bernard Haitink had them just play it through, though he did stop them at the beginning of the 3rd movement for playing ... not as sweetly as he wanted. 

I'd have nothing much to add to what the review in the Berkshire Eagle had to say except that my personal reaction to this concert was perhaps unique in my memory. I seriously doubt whether many have felt the same kinds of things, though I might be wrong. When it was all over, both my friend and I were utterly speechless for many minutes as we passed out from under the music shed where we'd heard the performance from good seats in the middle about 24 rows from the stage. I finally managed to say between choking sobs, (come on Burton, pull yourself together!) that had it gotten much better I might have died. My friend remarked simply that it couldn't have been done any better. Neither of us had heard things quite the way they are usually heard on every recording. We'd actually each heard this piece before live when we were in our 20's. Now in our 60's we were coming back for another hard listen and we couldn't believe how much better and deeper the music had seemed to have advanced with us. 

Neither of us had fathomed the depths of tragedy and indifference to it that the first movement contained, nor how sad much of it really was. The second movement seemed to shine with many specific instrumentalists and groups of instrumentalists contributing the unique colourings of this great music. The third was literally a landscape in sound, Elysium, with the sense of depth created by layering of instrumental groups. The fourth movement literally blew us away: the epitome of this performance was clarity, on so many levels; if the music is allowed to sound at proper tempo allowing each sound, each phrase to have a chance to resonate and that without excessive affectation or vibrato, then Beethoven's messages become stunningly more modern and immediate, especially those where he is clearly against war. 

Later my friend sent me a link to Leonard Bernstein's comments on Beethoven's Ninth (the third link). My own ideas concerning this work are tied up with the other work Beethoven was working on contemporaneously with this one, his Missa Solemnis Op 126. That piece too has an anti war undercurrent and is probably overdue a re acquaintance. 

Finally, I leave you all with Bernstein's Beethoven's Birthday Celebration in Vienna. Despite Bernstein's critique of Beethoven as a person, one perhaps way too easy for anyone to make, he seems to have little regard for Beethoven's condition as representing the effects of child abuse by his father and of the natural affects of enduring a terrible physical disability, especially for any musician, of losing one's hearing. We can't even imagin whatever other injuries were done to him as a child that may have resulted in other physical and mental abnormalities. The issue with his nephew was actually more direct and involved the plain facts of a terribly handicapped person needing someone to help him and look after him. Yes, before state intervention and socialism, such matters were the matters of families, as probably they should begin to become once again. Am I disagreeing with Bernstein's assessment? Not really. If you had been around in Beethoven's day or in Vienna, and had encountered him, no doubt you would have been repelled. It's just that a lot of it wasn't totally his fault. We have Beethoven's often miraculous music (Fidelio, the largest subject in Bernstein's Celebration, really isn't). The ninth symphony however, has no equal in all of music.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dvořák's New World Symphony turns 120

This year's Tanglewood Festival gave us another opportunity to hear an old warhorse live once again. We each remarked just how American this music really was and still is, that is except for the trio of the third movement which is certainly completely Czech. Sitting under 20 rows from the stage, we got to experience all the Boston Symphony Orchestra had to deliver.

There are two versions of this piece for this post, an old favourite and a newer transcendental version. The first is by the redoubtable Cleveland Orchestra under the often inspired leadership of Georg Szell.  I recall vividly how those who regarded his conducting as the best were called Szellots. Contrast that performance, along with some of the more traditional orchestral tone with the newer approach of a Munich Philharmonic under the direction of Sergiu Celibidache who certainly had far different ideas concerning tempi and the critical parts played by solo instrumentalists throughout this unique masterpiece.

This symphony written and performed in 1893 must have been written rather quickly, taking the composer no more than a few months. It's difficult for us to understand just how much “local colour” he could have managed to get within himself in such a short period of time. It would be entirely fair to credit Dvořák with incredible powers of perception. Here he was, 52 years old, across a vast ocean in a new and very different country from Europe, a vast open country that spanned a continent, full of its own natural wonders and terrors. He would be in America about 3 years, he and his family. During that time he would write without question some of his greatest works. The same would later be true of other great European composers.

Listen now, once more to this music. Those who hear it for the first time, believe me when I say it, it still speaks tremendously about much that is true, real and everlasting concerning America.

Antonín Dvořák Symphony #9 in e “From the New World” Op. 95 
1. Adagio – Allegro molto
2. Largo
3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
4. Allegro con fuoco 

Version 2: Munich Philharmonic, Sergiu Celibidache

Dvořák and his family around 1893