Ludwig van Beethoven, The Classicist. Symphonies 1 – 3
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Last year was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the Auckland Philharmonia orchestra had programmed the composer’s complete symphonies but due to Covid 19 the series was cancelled and rescheduled for this year.
Last night the first of these four concerts, “The Classicist” presented the first three of the symphonies with a further three concerts programmed over the rest of the year.
The major work of the evening was his Third Symphony ”The Eroica” which had originally been dedicated to Napoleon, but Beethoven dropped that dedication when Napoleon crowned himself emperor.
Even though the Napoleon dedication is gone the work still reverberates with the ideas around the French revolution, the importance of Napoleon and his transformation of Europe. At the time of these first three symphonies he had already begun to transform Europe militarily and politically and along with that he had begun its social and democratic transformation with his Code Napoleon.
The symphonies are tied to ideas of the Napoleonic era – revolutionary transformative and dramatic, works that expanded the whole idea of the symphony giving them an epic scope and emotional impact.
Rather than being music with great melodies full of poise and balance this was music which attempted to advance new ideas and placed the composer at the forefront of the Romantic revolution where narrative, originality and emotion were all-important.
Beethoven’s music stands as symbolising these great changes and conductor Giordano Bellincampi became the embodiment of Beethoven and Napoleon directing the forces of the orchestra.
His conducting of the Third Symphony brought out all the aspects of the work – the tensions and contrasts between the various sections of the orchestra, the lights melodies set against waves of impressive sound and allowing the individual instruments to shine through in short bravura displays.
There were several instances when Bellincampi’s guidance excelled such as in the expressive slow movement, where dark emotions were conveyed by the full-bodied strings along with the delightful “string quartet” and folksy melody in the final movement.
The first two symphonies provide a backdrop to the third symphony and here the influence of Haydn and Mozart was obvious although few instances of the revolutionary fire of the composer’s later works. There is a distinctive voice evident in the First Symphony with its innovative opening which is followed by music filled with sudden modulations, abrupt changes in dynamic as well as an impressive use of wind instruments along with rhythmic tricks.
Throughout these two works there was an exuberant conversation unfolding between sets of instruments. creating a sense of dialogue and narrative among this vast array of musical characters. We are continually surprised by the way in which the composer constructs and develops his themes as though playing musical games. Also obvious was a finely nuanced collaboration which allowed for an appreciation of all parts of the orchestra equally, hearing clearly the strings, brass, and winds at work together.
Bellincampi also made apparent the architectural construction of the symphonies, the structures, the building blocks, the interconnections and the embellishments which gives the music its solidity, vastness and complexity.
Future Beethoven concerts
May 13 The Romantic
Beethoven Symphony No.4
Beethoven Symphony No.5
July 29 The Revolutionary
Beethoven Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’
Beethoven Symphony No.7
Nov 25 The Radical
Beethoven Symphony No.8
Beethoven Symphony No.9 ‘Choral’