Stockholm’s Beethoven fest closes with a bang

Stockholm's Beethoven fest closes with a bang
After taking in the final concert of the Beethoven Festival series in Stockholm on Saturday night, ex-orchestral musician Louise Ling gives her review of the performance for experts and run-of-the-mill music fans alike.

Moving lithely and with a posture that reflected humbleness rather than genius, celebrated conductor Lorin Maazel darted, dodged and danced with Stockholm’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday night at Stockholm’s Konserthus, delivering a captivating performance that left the audience wanting more.

The concert, the final in the orchestra’s Beethoven Festival series, commenced with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

Despite being composed during Beethoven’s darkest days – when he was coming to terms with his impending deafness – the work is considerably light hearted with melodies that sing with optimism.

Scored for a relatively small orchestra, it is a brisk work that is filled with aspiration and at times, humour. Yes humour.

The light and playful themes were executed gracefully under the steady, yet light hand of Maazel.

Nothing too loud, nothing too soft, it was a performance that perfectly melded the composers wishes with the conductor’s individual flair.

Maazel’s choice of tempi were, let’s just say, not hurried, but after coming to terms with them, one learnt to relish and enjoy them. His approach to phrasing was shaded with subtle tenderness as each phrase was, quite rightly, allowed to expand with time.

Yet, this more flexible approach led to some insecure entries throughout the orchestra, but overall it won out with a performance that was full of emotive nuance and freshness.

Next up was Symphony No. 9, direct from Beethoven’s greatest hits album. Largely considered to be his best work, the tune is often played worldwide whenever you need a bit more pomp in your circumstance.

To celebrate freedom, to celebrate war, it’s also been used in many films including Stanley Kubrik’s 1971 classic, “A Clockwork Orange”.

With its universal appeal, it is the final movement with its majestic vocal scoring of Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” that has everybody waiting on the edge of their seat.

You know – Ode to Joy.

The one everybody was forced to learn on the recorder back in primary school.

First premiering in Vienna, 1824, the symphony was an instant success. With innovative compositional techniques it transformed the world from the Classical to the Romantic era.

A tone-deaf Beethoven co-directed the piece, however was largely assisted by another conductor. At the end of the recital he had to be turned to face his audience and although he could not hear the applause, he could undoubtedly see the hats and handkerchiefs flying high and the rapturous standing ovation.

Right from the first movement, Maazel’s reading of the ninth is marked with sensitivity, individuality and a certain sense of soulfulness. Onwards, the scherzo provides for some exciting listening with accomplished dexterity displayed by the woodwind and brass section, whilst the third movement was a best practice example of comely shape and nuance.

And then, what the audience had been waiting for – as well as the choir at the back who hadn’t opened their mouths yet – the final movement.

At first the audience was teased with snippets from earlier movements allowing the excitement to build. Then, the main theme finally erupted and was passed around the vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra. Simply stunning.

The orchestra in full flight is aptly balanced by a rich and warm choral sound performed by the Eric Ericsons chamber choir. Notable performances by baritone Karl-Magnus Fredriksson only add to the rich tapestry of Maazel’s soundscape.

This spectacular performance was met with a standing ovation and rounds and rounds of applause that seemed to last longer than the symphony itself.

Once again, the popularity of the Ninth Symphony can be seen as a testament to Beethoven’s greatness as a composer and of course, with a delivery like this, the genius of Lorin Maazel.

Louise Ling is an Australian freelance writer, specializing in music, the arts, and travel. In her previous life, she toured the world as an award winning orchestral musician.

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