Reviews, News and Commentary

Auckland Philharmonia reveals the drama, insights and revolution of Beethoven’s symphonies

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

The Revolutionary; Beethoven Symphonies No 6 & No 7

Auckland Town Hall

July 29

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

There are probably  a few musical highlights which all concertgoers have on their bucket lists.  They would include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Operas, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle but the major symphonic experience would be listening to a programme of  the Beethoven symphonies.

Two hundred years on from the time of Beethoven’s creative  period his music and particularly his symphonies remain important. The music itself has multiple dimensions ranging from the monumental and dramatic to the intimate and profound.

While composers before him such as  Mozart and Haydn had made great advances in developing the symphony the works of that early classical period were entertaining and not necessarily challenging. It was  Beethoven who reshaped both the form and the scope of the symphony with works which could be cerebral, playful  and enigmatic.

Like the other Romantic artists of the period (Wordsworth Keats and Shelley) Beethoven was interested in Nature, passions and the inner human struggles, emphasizing the intense emotions such as fear, horror, terror, and awe, especially  the sublime and beauty of nature  Where works such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” described Nature Beethoven’s ”Pastoral”  described the feelings of the observer

The Pastoral Symphony  is a prime example of the encounter with Nature with Beethoven  subtitled the work “Recollections of Country Life,” and each of the movements is given a  title related to an experience nature such as the first movement which he called “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside”.

The orchestra under the direction of Giordano Bellincampi brought out all the descriptions and emotions brilliantly. He achieved this  through very close attention to the finer points of phrasing and dynamics, bringing out all the nuances of the work with refined staccatos and beguiling moments of calm. From the very first movement  it is as though we are encountering a  landscape that changes through the day, the vistas, the light and the sounds captured, the imagery conveyed by the sparkling woodwinds. In  the second movement the delightfully sinuous strings created the image of the gently flowing brook

Then in the third movement the orchestra shifted into the visions of a storm led by the vigorous timpani and lower strings,

Beethoven was also one of the foremost avant-garde artists of his time and his music is in many respects the musical accompaniment to the revolutionary era of literary, scientific political and social experiment and change.

Just as Napoleon had changed the political and social landscape of Europe Beethoven with his early symphonies, he had demonstrated how his music celebrated that new era and the importance of the heroic figure and the human spirit and this was reaffirmed with his eighth symphony.

Conductor Bellincampi’s vigorous gestures and the way in which the orchestra seemed to be driven suggested the sweep of the dramatic times of the early nineteenth century. The orchestra’s sense of  momentum and unstoppable energy giving the work a real sense of purpose and revolution .

The various  movements were given structure and shape which attested to the skill of the composer with his clever  repetitions of melody and harmony. Under Bellincampi the  orchestra maintained a sense of drama by ensuring that individual instruments shone, allowing for delightful contrasts between the smooth lines of the wind instruments and the vigorous  strings. There were passages of escalating drama, snatches of dance and then moments of  an  almost euphotic lightness.

The finale was charged with energy, the orchestra focussed on the main theme with its  obsessional repeats imitating a military march as well  mimicking the lively sounds  of a group  of  peasant fiddlers.

Listening to the concert one was taken on a journey through musical landscapes both literal and metaphorical and even though the two symphonies are familiar the APO  and Bellincampi gave them a freshness which allowed for new insights into the music.

So far this year the Beethoven concerts have been sell out performances and the forthcoming “The Radical” featuring the composers Eighth and iconic Ninth ‘Choral’ Symphony, will now take place on Thursday November 25th with a repeat of the concert on November 26th

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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