Monday, February 22, 2010

The Orchestra of St. Luke - Haydn & Beethoven - 02/21/10

Conductor: Sir Roger Nottington
Haydn: Symphony No 99 in E-Flat Major, Hob. I:99
Beethoven: Symphony No 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 - Westminster Symphonic Choir, Jessica Rivera, Kelley O'Connor, Eric Cutler & Wayne Tigges

This week of renewal has turned out to be a week of incredible double-whammies as well with Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and, during the weekend, Beethoven with his Symphony No 5 on Saturday night in Washington and his Symphony No 9 on Sunday afternoon in New York. That's what I call a good use of one's own time. So as it were, yesterday the reliably brilliant Orchestra of St Luke conducted by distinguished Sir Roger Nottington was entertaining a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall. Beside being his other ground-breaking feat, Beethoven's ninth symphony also owes its ever-lasting popularity to its last movement which not only puts Schiller's ode "An die Freude" to music in a stirring fashion, but has also become the European Union's national anthem. What's not to love?

Things started off with good old Haydn who never disappoints me, even if he never completely carries me away either. I do, however, deeply admire his clever craftsmanship, and his symphony No 99 stands as yet another example of his remarkable, and remarkably abundant, oeuvre. The musicians of the slightly reduce orchestra proved one more time what a truly virtuosic ensemble they are by delivering a beautifully unified sound.
But the mammoth in the Perlman auditorium was of course Beethoven's awe-inspiring swan song, a symphony that smashingly expresses the universal triumph of humanity over adversity. All the way to the baritone's opening statement, the music oozes mystery, darkness and terror, occasionally punctuated by short lyrical outbursts. There is an endless spiritual quest in those currents, a challenging search for unifying brotherhood among men. Eventually, an answer is found as the all-around thrilling Ode to Joy explodes and conquers all. Far from the natural reserve typically associated with Englishmen, maestro Nottington led a ferociously gripping performance by a fully committed orchestra and singers, treating the riveted audience to over an hour of pure electric bliss. A special note much be made of the choir who sang all the way up to the heavens. As much as I was resenting spending such a beautiful Sunday afternoon inside, all this ambivalence had disappeared once I got out, having celebrated not only the victory of mankind over dark forces, but also life's rebirth over the winter blues.

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