Review: Two years later, a Beethoven cycle reaches its final stage

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Beethoven Symphony Cycle is expected to arrive at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 2020. Arguably: Not so.

But that concert sequence belongs to the lucky class of canceled shows that have found their way back to the stage. However, the journey is a mirror reflection of the pandemic uncertainty we continue to play in. Even though the cycle started last fall when the fifth symphony opening for Carnegie’s season, it was delayed again in January when the Omicron variant pushed away from Beethoven’s Ninth – and its full choir “Ode to Joy.”

So just on Monday, the cycle came to an end, with Philadelphia’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, at the podium performing the majestic First Symphony and Ninth Symphony, along with the show. launch the world inspired by it, Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Pachamama Meets an Ode.”

In New York, Nézet-Séguin took on something like the role of resident commandereven to the point of exhausted; Monday’s performance comes exactly a week before he directs the new Verdi’s . production “Don Carlos” at the Metropolitan Opera, where he was also music director.

And because the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Beethoven concerts are an addition to others scheduled at Carnegie this season, it has become the hall’s de facto home band. The band was only there two weeks ago, with departures from the standard depot (and Beethoven) Zachary Woolfe claps in The New York Times, while betting that “nothing Philadelphians do at Carnegie this season will be more impressive.”

At the very least, there won’t be much competition compared to Monday’s arrival. Beethoven’s extremes – the perfect classicism of the First and the controlled excesses of the First – absorbed but were not perfect in this reading. But it’s still a touching show, in large part due to Frank’s premiere.

At the best of times, Beethoven cycles that fold in new commissions bring a conversation between past and present. Frank’s is quite literally a dialogue, however imaginable, with the composer she calls “The Great Man”. And who better to fight Beethoven? As a deaf composer, Frank wrote about his perception as a benevolent spirit. The worldwide background that inspires her practice – as the American daughter of a father of Lithuanian-Jewish heritage and a Peruvian mother of Chinese and Indigenous descent – provides a nuanced perspective, and examination, of the brotherly aspirations of “Ode to Joy. ”

Her new work is a wonderful encounter between Beethoven and a contemporary of the Cusco School painters, tracing today’s climate crisis to the exploitation of natural resources and the global expansion of great powers. Europe in the time of Beethoven. In 10 minutes of the piece, the text, written by Frank, evokes colonialism, animal extinction, and images like a river “on oil fire”.

Using the same orchestra as Beethoven’s 9th song, minus its four vocal soloists, “Pachamama” is huge, and deploys the emotional power of “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem. Distinct textures break the waves of sound: the hum in the strings, and the out-of-sync humming in the choir – a nod, Frank, to South American vernacular music. The words are laid out simply, only to be converted in the end to prolong the question “What of the odes?” and “What is joy?” Then, an infinitely long whistle, a glimmer of punctuation, and a subtle bridge span reach Beethoven’s first bar.

The two symphonies here show the great transformation of the Great in the 24 years since their debut, but also show how belated his style was in his youth.

His first was clearly indebted to Mozart and Haydn, until it wasn’t. That moment, Menuetto, is where the Nézet-Séguin interpretation comes in. In the past, sequences – too many of them – were still bogged down in the intro’s flowing phrases. But their synergy is clearly emphasized with Menuetto, an upcoming art, with the glamor of Beethoven coming soon.

Nézet-Séguin is a talented conductor of Mozart, and his handling of the finale – witty and nimble – could be one of that composer’s operas. It is only toned down by the hyped orchestra; Beethoven could benefit from fewer instruments, for balance, clarity and, above all, energy.

Oversized scale is more of an issue in the IX. Nézet-Séguin took a long look at the piece, beginning in mysterious quiet, as if descending the symphony from great heights, and building up to unrelenting grandeur in the finale “Ode” to Joy”. But 25 minutes is a long time to sustain a climax, and the effect wears off long before the epilogue comes out.

The orchestra gets its best in the second movement, where the strings maintain the team’s lightness allowing for a stark contrast and, importantly, making room for the wind and brass to be drowned out elsewhere. The players, then, are sensitive accompanists with vocal solos, though baritone Ryan Speedo Green needs no help to command the stage with his explosive entrance.

Green is back to mingle, in a great way, with his solo artists. His vocals are a surprising complement to the more slender luminosity of tenor Matthew Polezani, and together they form rich texture with soprano Angel Blue and soprano Rihab Chaieb. The Philadelphia Choir is harder to follow. If you listen closely, you can get the “alle Menschen” out here and there, but the group’s sound is mostly cloudy, as if it’s coming from behind the scenes, into the orchestra where it’s supposed to. heard above it.

Even the best performance of this symphony, however, will be haunted by Frank, which makes Beethoven’s ecstatic finale a bit illusory, and his naive optimism hard get – a reminder of how dangerously popular this work’s universal message has been put to common use. , and its Enlightenment hopes have yet to materialize, nearly 200 years later. During the rest of the fermata of the Ninth’s last bar, Frank’s trumpet still echoed in his mind, still asking: What’s the matter? What’s of happiness?

Philadelphia Orchestra

Performing on Mondays at Carnegie Hall, Manhattan, and back there on April 8 and 21; carnegiehall.org.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/22/arts/music/philadelphia-orchestra-beethoven-carnegie-hall-review.html Review: Two years later, a Beethoven cycle reaches its final stage

Fry Electronics Team

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