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Beethoven's Ninth Live Concert Review (Houston Symphony Orchestra)

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Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 (Andrés Orozco-Estrada/Houston Symphony Orchestra)
Leonard Bernstein: Chichester Palms

March 18th, 2016 - Jones Hall

Well, I saw Beethoven's Ninth live yesterday. I can now die.

My review and thoughts:

Movement 1, Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso: First, I'll say that I'm finally beginning to fully appreciate live music, the clarity and exchange of the instruments were revelatory this time around. The tempi throughout were on the quick side, as in Gardiner quick. This is not my favorite for Beethoven's Ninth, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. The energy and pulse of the music never let up and that's what I was looking for. The first movement is a continual build up, gradually gaining steam only to pull back, finally paying off in the intense recapitulation and I think Orozco-Estrada did a wonderful job of never letting the energy subside. Of course, I do think that with tempi this quick, some of the phrasing is at risk of sounding rushed and some of the moments I look for did sound a bit rushed, but not at expense of the movement's inner pulse and energy.

Movement 2, Scherzo, molto vivace: The quicker tempi worked well with this movement, and once again, Orozco-Estrada made made sure its energetic climaxes felt like climaxes, nothing was perfunctory or forced. The energy was sincere. Oddly enough, the repeat was not taken, I was betting that he would take it, but it wasn't a deal breaker. The movement's beautiful cello interlude was well played, it was an instance where the quicker tempi did not affect the phrasing, its message was effectively made. The movement closed out strongly, which leads me to...

Movement 3, Adagio molto e cantabile: Orozco-Estrada, in a pre-performance video, explained that Beethoven's tempi worked well with the slow movement (and the rest of the symphony, for the matter), but specifically for this movement, he explained that Beethoven's metronome markings did well at keeping the "big picture", or the overarching melody's line was kept intact when performed with quicker tempi. After listening, I was inclined to agree, mostly, at least. The melodies and harmonies were tighter, but some of the movement's beauty was a bit too hastily handled. It was a something different and I greatly enjoyed it. Keep in mind, I usually listen to Fricsay's slow movement (18 minutes), which reigns supreme in my book.

Movement 4, Presto, allegro assai: The opening "Terror fanfare" ("Schreckensfanfare") which Richard Wagner called it, sounded a bit on the tame side, but I can forgive that. The recitativo-like beginning with each previous movement being called back to memory by the basses and cellos, and introduction of the ode to joy was wonderfully played and effective. The vocal quartet did a fine enough job, the baritone performed the best. The "Turkish March" was playful and rhythmically propulsive. The finale closed with energy to spare, a rush to the finish line and it worked well, it was like Fricsay's finale in this regard.

In closing, one key element that I look for in Beethoven's Ninth, my favorite piece of orchestral music by quite a big margin, is the energy and inner pulse that is inherent in this symphony and it was abundant in this performance. I cannot abide by perfunctory performances and this was anything but.
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Updated Mar-20-2016 at 05:55 by DiesIraeCX