MTT, New World present different sides of Beethoven’s genius

By Lawrence Budmen

The New World Symphony celebrated the genius of Beethoven Saturday night at the New World Center with Michael Tilson Thomas presiding over a multi-dimensional overview of the master from Bonn’s diverse creative output.

This program continued the new series of composer portraits begun last season with a Schubert evening during the opening week of the orchestra’s new campus. Rather than attempting a chronological survey of Beethoven’s works, the three-part concert was divided into segments devoted to diversions, drama and nationalism that spanned his entire creative life.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, the movements of symphonies and other large scale works were often not presented in consecutive sequence but were interspersed with shorter, lighter pieces. So, on Saturday music for mandolin, clarinet and brass quartet formed interludes between the movements of Tilson Thomas’s┬ádynamic reading of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2.

With first and second violins divided on opposite sides of the conductor, Tilson Thomas perfectly balanced the symphony’s classical wit and dramatic subtext. A crisp, lithe opening movement showcased the ensemble’s strong wind and brass contingent. The lyrical flow of the Larghetto did not slight the turmoil lurking beneath the melodic riches. In the playful Scherzo and bubbly finale, Beethoven outdid Haydn for sheer humor achieved through pauses, sudden loud chords and unexpected turns in the melodic lines. Tilson Thomas emphatically pointed up the dynamic contrasts, quirky thematic threads and raucous climaxes.

Between the movements, a Sonatina in C Major for mandolin and fortepiano proved a melodic, charming curio, displaying the beguiling agility of Joseph Brent on mandolin. The theme and variations from the Trio in E-flat Major for clarinet, cello and piano received fleet, supple advocacy from clarinetist Jason Shafer, cellist Joseph Lee and pianist Marnie Hauschildt. (This score also exists in a more familiar version for violin, cello and piano.) A brass quartet offered one of the Equali played at Beethoven’s own funeral. The sound from the balconies surrounding the stage was clear and transparent, the acoustical problem that plagued the hall’s opening performances seemingly solved.

A wind divertissement on a theme from Mozart’s Don Giovanni launched the program’s rather broadly defined drama segment. The third movement from the String Quartet No. 11 (Serioso) benefited from taut, intense energy and spare vibrato in the period-instrument manner. Silken cello, flute and harp solos enlivened an adagio from the ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus. Alexander Malikov, currently a student of Angela Cheng at the Oberlin Conservatory, nicely balanced the classicism and storm-tossed passions of the Prestissimo from the Piano Sonata No.1 in F minor on the fortepiano. The instrument’s lighter registrations recall the sound of the harpsichord but with a wider dynamic range.

Tilson Thomas led a warm and flowing performance of the Allegretto from the Symphony No. 7 that avoided the funereal aura often afflicted on the movement. The darkly burnished playing of the New World’s strings and winds was wonderfully subtle and evocative.

Soprano Christine Goerke offered a powerhouse performance of the dramatic scena Ah perfido. Once a fine lyric soprano who excelled in Mozart repertoire, Goerke is transitioning into major Wagner and Strauss roles. Her sizable voice, gleaming power in the upper register and subtle word play suggested the refined artistry of a great lieder singer in Beethoven’s monologue of a woman scorned.

Joshua Gersen, the New World’s new conducting fellow, directed a brisk version of the Overture to Egmont, launching the program’s final segment on Beethoven’s nationalism. Such rarities as Scottish and Russian airs with variations (played with elegance and tonal purity by flutist Matthew Roitstein) and a jingoistic War Song of the Austrians (sung in stentorian manner by tenor Byron Grohman from Seraphic Fire with the New World musicians singing along in the refrain) preceded the battle symphony Wellington’s Victory. Would anyone play this work today if Beethoven’s name was not on the manuscript? A score very much of its time and place, this music is neither subtle nor profound. With trumpets and drums on balconies on each side of the stage representing the English and French forces, the work made a splendid racket in Tilson Thomas’ high-octane performance.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “MTT, New World present different sides of Beethoven’s genius”

  1. Posted Oct 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm by Jackie Leone

    Thanks for the music lesson. I sorely needed it The concert was captivating.

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Sun Oct 23, 2011
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