Friedrich Cerha: Paraphrase über den Anfang der 9.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
Christiane Oelze (sop), Annely Peebo (mez), Kor-Jan Dusseljee (ten),
Thomas E Bauer (bass)
CBSO Chorus (prepared by Simon Halsey), Gewandhausorchester Leipzig / Riccardo Chailly.
Barbican Centre, London – Thursday, November 3rd, 2011.
This was something very special. The Gewandhausorchester had been in London for the last two weeks working their way through all of the Beethoven symphonies, tied in with their latest CD release of the 9. Sadly, due to real life coming in my way, I was not able to attend any of the other concerts but I was very happy that I made this one.
The evening started with the Cerha piece. It was refreshing to come across a piece of contemporary music that spoke directly to the listener yet challenged and intrigued. His piece was based around the four note motif that opens the Beethoven and it was passed around the orchestra in various instrumental combinations. It made a great curtain raiser to the evening. It preceded an unnecessary interval but at least the Batbican bars were doing well out of it.
And then to the 9th. On a day when the news is full of doom and gloom about financial crises, nuclear proliferation, and protests, it was wonderful to take some time out to experience one of the glories of western civilization. This piece represents everything that makes humanity what it is and this was a very special interpretation.
The orchestra played with perhaps more vibrato than I am used to having spent hours listening to the Mackerras and van Immerseel versions, up until now the finest of recent years. Yet, it was clear that they were not using as much vibrato as they may have done in the past – I would call it the semi-skimmed version. The string tone was beautifully grainy in the Barbican acoustic, the winds expertly characterful and the brass golden-toned. They played impeccably and with great distinction. Yet is really only part of the story. They were conducted in a visionary interpretation by Chailly. The first movement was taken at an impressive lick and held no prisoners. The scherzo was distinguished by some superb timpani playing. The slow movement really was cantabile and beautifully done. The finale was superb – tempi judged to perfection. Sometimes a performance can have such a visceral impact that words are really hard to find. This was one of them.
They were joined by a very well-matched quartet with the wonderful Christane Oelze on the top line. The CBSO Chorus brought superb discipline and brummy German and despite what I imagine was limited rehearsal time with the orchestra, they were at one with Chailly’s interpretation.
I sampled Chailly’s 9th on Spotify last week and it sounded intriguing. I’m not sure whether it has the same impact as it does live but I would encourage anyone who loves this piece to hear it or better still, try to experience it live. It brings Beethoven’s humanity to life.