Founded fourteen years ago by Teodor Currentzis, MusicaAeterna is a skilled period-instrument orchestra; the string strength is about a dozen fewer than with the standard symphony orchestra. The players respond to their conductor with remarkable unanimity in his often individual phrasing. This was at once apparent in the expressive rendering of the introduction to Beethoven’s Second Symphony and the clear-toned Allegro found them delivering subtle gradations of dynamics with precision. First and second violins were divided either side of the conductor, expected in music of this period, but the musicians stood throughout – I cannot see any advantage in this arrangement. I was impressed by the contrasting firmness of the forte chords – emphasised but with a light touch – so it was a real shame to hear some in the audience clapping after the first movement – worse still, between every movement during the whole evening; this selfish group never left any of the silences alone. Clearly they don’t listen to BBC Radio 3 which – in previewing the concert during a morning programme – had expressed the hope that there would be no such interruptions. The Larghetto then proceeded at a satisfyingly flowing tempo followed by a sparkling Minuet, spoilt by the unaccountable addition of its first repeat after the Trio but not the second; this ruined the symmetry of the movement. The Finale was remarkably rapid – I have not heard it at this speed since Erich Kleiber fitted it on to one side of a 78rpm record, for Telefunken, recorded in 1938.
Following the interval, and without waiting for the audience to settle, Currentzis drove straight into the Fifth: fast, exciting and with no trace of the romantic over-emphasis that is so often imposed. Sometimes phrase-endings were softened in order to swell effectively to a dramatic moment. This characteristic was also evident in the Andante, phrased with skilled use of rubato – every melody was given full meaning yet the progress of the music was never interrupted. Forced to wait for audience noise to subside Currentzis started the Scherzo swiftly but incredibly quietly, the strings barely spoke. The horn fanfares were comforting rather than heroic but lower strings were amazingly exact in the whirlwind of a Trio. I appreciated the beauty of the orchestra’s quiet playing, but the link to the Finale was on the threshold of audibility and the important sustained drum rhythm was barely discernible. The Finale (with repeat) had all the characteristics of the conductor’s approach: swift, light in touch, except the major climaxes, and there was a blended quality when the full orchestra took flight. This was dramatic Beethoven, not especially powerful, but very expressive.
This was a relatively short programme and although I didn’t think anything to be necessary after Beethoven 5 there was a substantial encore: the Finale of his Seventh Symphony, given at pace with care to detail, subtle dynamics and including the exposition repeat.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms