Stephen Kovacevich, with the London Mozart Players, continued his Beethoven cycle with an impressive performance of two symphonies. The programme opened with the vibrant Egmont Overture, yielding triumphant highs and poignant lows. Silence was handled like a dangerous dog on a tight leash, and the instrumental skill expressed restrained desire, heightening the heroic and tragic elements of the piece.
The seldom-performed Symphony No 8 offers a Beethoven at peace, unlike the tempests and frolics of the works in which it was cushioned, Symphonies No 7 and No 9. The LMP showed its versatility in performing a restrained piece (for Beethoven) with vigour and pathos, the strings being particularly fine.
The Symphony No 3, Eroica, was the first truly great Romantic musical work, an anthem of revolution and enlightenment. Originally conceived as a homage to Napoleon, it remains both imperial and heroic in character: struggle, sorrow, heroism and triumph follow one another with the certainty born only of creative genius.
Kovacevich and the LMP gave a thrilling performance of this masterwork: the whole piece had a wonderful continuity and made the pulse race with expectation, calling to mind not Napoleon but the misanthropic, misunderstood musical genius who was able to capture metaphysical constructs, personalities and a whole age in sound. The horns demanded to be centre stage, with or without the timpani. If any part of the orchestra is stretched by this piece, it is the winds, which are made to perform pyrotechnics. But carried by the confident strings, they created a triumphant, unified pomp. Breathtaking!
The LMP is proof, if any were needed, of that Aristotelian dictum: "We are what we repeatedly do – excellence therefore is not the result of a single act, but of habit." Yet technical skill alone can produce a sterility that has the appearance of perfection, but bears no substance. Passion is needed, too, and the LMP has this, palpably, in each note, and in each silence in between.
Beethoven once told Weber: "Well do I know that I am the vehicle for great spiritual messages for mankind." Judge for yourself when the Beethoven cycle comes to an end with performances of Symphony No 9 in D minor on 20 May at Cadogan Hall and on 21 May at Fairfield Halls, Croydon. The perfect entropy of voice and instrument, this is music for the gods, donated to man. Given the performances in this cycle so far, I expect an ecstatic, faithful rendition of this masterpiece.
Michael Faulkner, Registered nursing-home manager, Croydon
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