LSO/Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner, Barbican
Friday 16 December 2011
Music whose shock-value is an integral part of its power should not be heard too often, and when it’s plundered and parodied like Beethoven’s Ninth, this holds particularly true: three times a year is enough.
The first time I heard the Ninth this year was with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms, but they robbed it of every shred of its majesty and power. On the other hand, Ricardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester had me enthralled from the first horn-call to the final drum-beat.
John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra provided my third Ninth, but they prefaced it with an account of Beethoven’s First Symphony which brilliantly highlighted both its debt to Haydn and its bold throwing-off of the 18th-century shackles. This performance represented a rare meld between conductor and orchestra, creating the ‘sprung’ quality of a period band without sacrificing any of the big Beethoven effects. The tempi were fast, and the ornamentation deft; the Minuet seldom sounded more like a Scherzo than it did here, with the syncopations slammed across the bar-lines with absolute precision; eyes shut, you’d have thought the melody in the Andante was played by one single instrument, not the second violins en masse.
And so to the main event, with soprano Rebecca Evans, mezzo Wilke te Brummelstroete, tenor Michael Spyres, and the South African bass Vuyani Mlinde, plus the Monteverdi Choir. The contours of the Ninth’s first movement were not as fastidiously shaped as those of the First, but, both there and in the Scherzo, Gardiner was in whip-cracking form. With the Adagio, however, he missed a trick: as one of the most sublime achievements of Beethoven’s late oeuvre, this should transport us into another world, but Gardiner’s brisk despatch kept it earth-bound.
One of Gardiner’s trade-mark touches in this concert was to put the first and second violins at opposite ends of the stage, the better to bring out Beethoven’s antiphony. So why did he put the four soloists at the back of the stage with the choir? For the full drama of the finale we needed both them and their sound in close-up, but though Mlinde came across loud and clear, the other three were literally drowned by the orchestra in front of them the choir (on superb form) behind. Strange.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 iOS 8 apps and features: eight iPhone settings you need to look at after you install the update
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': TV reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Cilla, episode 2, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith continues to shine as the young singer
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Foo Fighters: Live 2015 tour dates announced for Sonic Highways
Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
Top Gear to launch in France after Jeremy Clarkson banned from driving on roads
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God