Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin – Beethoven Choral Symphony [live webcast]

Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43 – Overture, Adagio & Finale
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Joni Henson (soprano), Kelley O’Connor (mezzo-soprano), Vale Rideout (tenor) & Jason Grant (bass-baritone)

UMS Choral Union

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 February, 2013
Venue: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan

Leonard Slatkin. ©Steve J. ShermanLeonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra completed its Beethoven Symphony Cycle with the ‘Choral’. Opening this matinee concert (afternoon in Detroit, evening in London where your reviewer was perched) were three sections from Beethoven’s sole ballet score, The Creatures of Prometheus. The Overture’s slow introduction was pregnant with promise, its allegro bustling with ingenuity. For the extended ‘Adagio’ a harp flourish (not many of those in Beethoven music!) ushered in a magic flute then the captivating cello-playing of Robert deMaine, complemented by some beguiling arabesques from other principals. The ballet’s ‘Finale’, here held to ransom by clappers, bounced along agreeably to a familiar Beethovenian Theme that also features in a set of Variations for piano (Opus 35) and in a Symphony eventually not dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte.

And so to the Ninth Symphony, a large-scale reading from Slatkin, taking the music back to its glorious near-past, the first movement majestic and trenchant and lofted by a sure sense of direction – magnetically so to the tempestuous climax – and so much more satisfying than one of those fly-along renditions that can only be concerned with hammering the notes into an earthbound machine-like progression. The scherzo was similarly no faster than it needs to be and was gratefully extended with a generosity of repeats. The rewards of point and articulation were many (the horn ruffles perhaps a Wagner or Mahler emendation rather than a Beethoven original) and the trio flowed blissfully. Then a surprise – perhaps a shock – with the da capo: the ear was already a return of the scherzo’s opening bars, save they were removed! Making their first appearance an introduction-only gesture may be thought curious, but it was also effective.

There is a case for having the vocal soloists on the platform from the off, but at least their arrival at this point was without ceremony – and applause – the mood remaining still, an ideal ambience for a sublimely spacious slow movement, so expressively and beautifully played, a meditation from the Elysian Fields, with quicker dance-like extensions and, towards the end, quite curt comments before the rapt mood returned … then straight into confrontation, a dramatic stroke, this ‘with voices’ finale given with intensity, largesse, indivisibility (even when an episode of non-vibrato execution offered a new complexion) and inevitability – and, dare one say it, joy. The solo singers were democratic of dress (Vale Rideout sporting a bow-tie, Jason Grant opting for the casual look) and individually accomplished, the UMS Choral Union disciplined and lusty. The all-embracing coda, piccolo set free, was a triumphant mix of the equestrian and brotherly love.

Journey completed. Unfortunately we missed the first concert (the Eighth and ‘Eroica’ Symphonies), but all is not lost, for the DSO has recorded Slatkin’s Beethoven cycle – yours for 20 dollars less a cent.

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