Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Chailly – Beethoven Symphony Cycle at Barbican Hall – 5: Choral + Cerha

Paraphrase über den Anfang 9.Symphonie von Beethoven [UK premiere]
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Christianne Oelze (soprano), Annely Peebo (mezzo-soprano), Kor-Jan Dusseljee (tenor) & Thomas E. Bauer (baritone)

City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 3 November, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Riccardo Chailly. Photograph: Gert MothesAnd so to bed … but not before an exhilarating ‘Choral’ Symphony and a striking new piece by Friedrich Cerha. Thus the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra’s Beethoven cycle with Riccardo Chailly – in its London leg – came to a close in harmonious and festive celebration.

Friedrich Cerha (born 1926, co-founder of Ensemble ‘die reihe’, and the completer of Alban Berg’s Lulu) wrote his Beethoven 9 paraphrase this year, one of five composers invited to contribute Beethoven Symphony-related works. At 12 minutes, Cerha’s piece made a short first half, and its Beethoven 9 connection wasn’t necessarily obvious to the ear. The eerie and chiming opening immediately grabbed attention, though, gathering strength and density to a satisfyingly knotty discourse, vividly detailed (Cerha scores for Beethoven’s orchestra plus extra percussion). Explosive intent and locomotive rhythms vie with introspection and Bergian beauty, mirroring the reflection and turmoil to be found in the first movement (Cerha’s starting point) of Beethoven’s ultimate symphony. The piece fades into the ether, still chiming, ending with muted trombones. It’s music to listen to again.

If Beethoven’s Schiller-stimulated finale was here stunning, the three movements leading up to it introduced doubts. Make no mistake, the Leipzigers’ playing was superb, a wonderful mix of virtuosity, character and deep culture – the Cerha had been played with equal conviction – with Chailly living every note … nevertheless, the first movement was simply too fast and often clipped, no Furtwänglerian misterioso here (not that that is obligatory) and there was certainly a stream – no, make that a torrent – of consciousness, Beethoven’s ink still wet, second violins thrown into blessed relief in their antiphonal placing. Yet the lack of tempo deviation and the passing over of expressive gambits made for something small-scale. Even more so with the ensuing outsize scherzo, lasting two minutes longer, every possible repeat in place (as they need to be) including an unlikely one (the first section come the da capo). Deft execution to be sure with brilliantly incisive timpani-playing (save for some less than pristine hand-stopping that suggested additional notes) and a curious wimp of a final chord. The slow movement was anything but, somewhat unsettled, and for all the loveliness of the playing the music’s Elysian magic was rather squeezed into an always-Andante tread that had no Adagio to contrast with it.

The finale though was life-affirming, from chaos to emancipation, the various episodes melded as one – not drawing attention to the ‘obvious’ bits – and with an enviable balance throughout (brass embedded into the texture – yet trumpets exulted when necessary – and with percussion lightly touched come the here-jaunty ‘Turkish’ march). Yes, this was great music-making, the CBSO Chorus superb (and singing from memory), the four soloists individually and corporately excellent, and Chailly’s scrupulousness with dynamics was particularly observant, especially at the quieter end. There was no doubt – despite the best efforts of those who cough, sneeze and spread aural diseases – that, in this symphony’s most humanist dimension, this ‘Ode to Joy’ had been altogether special and scintillating.

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