music Beethoven; Schoenberg Usher Hall
Tuesday 13 August 1996
Whatever the political intent, the musical effect was staggering. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra snapped, growled and barked their way through the Schoenberg, making the most of the tart sonorities and tigerish fanfares. Olaf Bar mixed grimness with hysteria in the Sprechgesang narration; it scarcely mattered that the men of the Festival Chorus suggested a Huddersfield workmen's club rather than a Polish synagogue.
This seven-minute piece put the symphony into a strangefocus. The famous work is really a drama rather than a religious affirmation, asking questions it cannot fully answer. It begins cold, bleak, ruthless. The crisp detail and acid textures of the Schoenberg reappeared; the conductor, Donald Runnicles, took it never too fast, seldom too loud, and it pulsed with suppressed power which burst out with terrifying force at the start of the recapitulation.
The Scherzo travelled light, the wind ensemble sounding like a shower of diamonds. The slow movement was an extraordinary achievement, a profound pool of stillness, the long decorated violin melodies unravelling simply. This kind of frozen lyricism, typical of late Beethoven, seems to lead nowhere - straight to Heaven, perhaps.
In this case, however, it had to lead to the "Hymn to Joy". When this came it sounded lethargic and tentative, and Bryn Terfel's exhortation - "O Freunde, nicht diese Tone" - was nervous and gusty. The courage, objectivity, realism of the earlier movements was not so easily dismissed. Finally, the Schiller hymn felt like a paradox; the chorus yelled their belief in a benevolent God in clamouring counterpoint until everything collapsed on to a shivering, indecisive chord.
The whole movement had an edge of strain and panic. Paradise is attainable, Runnicles seemed to say, but not through the brotherhood of man. This was post-Holocaust Beethoven. It was a challenging way to start the 50th Edinburgh Festival.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 2 Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
- 3 George Galloway left with severe bruising after attack in Notting Hill by man 'shouting about the Holocaust'
- 4 Saudi Arabia executes 19 in one half of August in 'disturbing surge of beheadings'
- 5 Brother and sister, Christopher Buckner and Timothy Savoy, arrested for 'committing incest after watching 'The Notebook''
Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace joins line-up as final celebrities revealed
Great British Bake Off 2014: Diana Beard quits after falling ill
Great British Bake Off 2014: Ofcom receives 13 complaints about Baked Alaska episode
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
- < Previous
- Next >