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Pärnu Festival juxtaposes Beethoven and Strauss

Concert Hall, Pärnu
07/18/2013 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: The Creatures of Prometheus: Overture , Op. 43 – Symphony No. 3 In E-flat Major("Eroica"), Op. 55
Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen

Pärnu Festival Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor)

P. Järvi (Courtesy Pärnu Music Festival)

Paavo Järvi led the Pärnu Festival Orchestra in a handsome program with thematic connections July 17 in the sparkling glass-walled Concert Hall in Pärnu, Estonia.

It was the fourth concert of the Pärnu Music Festival, held July 16-23 in this sparkling resort city on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

Juxtaposed was music by Beethoven and Richard Strauss, specifically Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) and Strauss’ Metamorphosen. Composed in 1945, the latter is a reflection on the glory of German music viewed through the devastation of World War II and a grieving lament over humankind’s descent into bestiality (a kind of metamorphosis backwards).

Germany’s opera houses and concert halls lay in ruins as Strauss wrote Metamorphosen. Scored for 23 solo strings, it was performed with deep feeling by members of the Festival Orchestra, beginning with a poignant incantation by the four cellos. Threaded through its dense counterpoint is a solemn theme derived from the Funeral March of Beethoven’s Eroica, giving it a truly searing effect. Just before the end an actual quotation of the “Eroica” theme appears in the double bass (inscribed “in memoriam” by the composer) as if to seal the work’s evocation of the Bonn master.

Järvi kept his hands in the air for a long moment as the music faded, then slowly dropped them to signal the applause. It was a long time coming, so transported were the listeners in the hall.

A light exploded above the stage during the opening bars of the Eroica, giving off a sound like a shot and causing Järvi to put his hand to his chest (in jest). The music continued uninterrupted, however, brisk, percussive, con brio in every respect. The second movement Funeral March was highly effective, in part because of the dry, military sound achieved by the timpanist. The clarinet pealed above the ensemble at one point and extremes of dynamics were favored, yielding a heart-rending impression.

Ensemble was a bit wobbly at the very beginning of the Scherzo, but things soon took hold and the horns were magisterial in the Trio section. Järvi moved with scarcely a pause into the crowning Finale. The variations were full of character here, even boisterous at times, and Järvi crafted gestures to match (sawing motions to emulate the strings, for example). The conclusion – blazing hot and quick as a wink – drew the crowd to its feet amid a chorus of cheers. Encore was a repeat of the Scherzo.

The concert opened with more Beethoven, his Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus (another connection with “Eroica,” as the variations theme first appears in the finale of the ballet). The performance was crisp and full of vigor, with fine string ensemble and melodious winds, a fitting prelude to what was, in fact, a celebratory concert.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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