Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)
Rebecca Evans (soprano), Wilke te Brummelstroete (mezzo-soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor) & Vuyani Mlinde (bass-baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 7 February, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Let’s not beat about the bush: this was a terrific concert, John Eliot Gardiner producing two life-enhancing Beethoven performances that were fascinating from first bar to last.
In the slow introduction to the First Symphony, the arching violin entry had a lift to it, and an almost baroque bright sonority, which in an instant created a palpable mood of vitality and wellbeing. The Allegro con brio was just that – athletic, but not excessively so, with rhythms sprung in the most invigorating way. There was some delicious playing from the winds, and Gardiner obtained contributions of great style and brio from the strings. The tempo of the second movement was truly Andante cantabile con moto, satisfyingly shaped and expressive without being self-indulgent. There was felicitous interplay between the strings and the woodwinds, and also between the antiphonal violins and the violas. The Minuet (in fact a vigorous scherzo) was thrillingly done, with perky contributions from the strings and exhilarating playing, not least dramatic interventions from timpani and trumpets; and the finale combined Haydnesque esprit and panache with Beethovenian ruggedness.
Gardiner’s approach to the opening of the Ninth Symphony was predictably direct – not of the hyper-mysterious variety espoused by Klemperer or Furtwängler, but still with plenty of inner tension. After the ensuing explosion, the music swept forward inexorably, a most arresting crescendo leading up to the great discord at the movement’s centre. Amidst the ensuing wildness, trumpets and horns thrillingly pierced through. At the close, with strings grinding away in an almost unhinged fashion, the fevered playing was hypnotic. Timpani plays a prominent part in the scherzo but was here relatively reserved – quite a relief from the relentless assault that one often hears. Once again there was striking playing from the winds, particularly the bassoons. At the almost hymn-like entry of the strings in the slow movement, the sheen of the players brought a mood of great serenity, and when their initial theme later returned there was some very tender interplay between the strings and winds.
After the discordant opening of the finale (timpani now far more pronounced), the cellos and doubles basses were truly sonorous, especially when they came to intone the “Freude schöne…” theme; and when the whole orchestra took over the effect was magnificent. Gardiner had a finely balanced and almost wholly secure vocal quartet, positioned to the rear of the orchestra and adjacent to the 36 members of the Monteverdi Choir. A small chorus, but what a sound its members made! The Turkish march and the double fugue were vividly done – as was the awe-inspiring adagio treatment of “Alle Menschen…” – and then Gardiner brought the whole magnificent structure to a resounding and jubilant conclusion.