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A Consecration and a Beatification

New York
Allice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
03/02/2009 -  March 3, 2009
Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture to “The Consecration of the House”, opus 124 – Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93 – Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Eroica”), Opus 55

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen), Paavo Järvi (Conductor)

Paavo Järvi (© Sheila Rock)

Alice Tully Hall has been open nearly a week now, but with the last night’s starting fortissimo C Major chord, followed by four more sforzando chords, like a rapid-fire explosive, this theatre was finally and officially blessed. And blessed by no less a personage than Ludwig van Beethoven himself.

The opening notes were from the overture to “Consecration of the House”, for a new theatre in Vienna, but the extraordinary conducting of Paavo Järvi made this not only a blessing, but a benediction, orison and beatification as well.

Both the overture, and two Beethoven symphonies were christened with the unique Järvi imprimatur, so one can honestly say that Beethoven has never behaved this way in New York before, and we shall have to wait for the next appearance of the Bremen Chamber Philharmonic to hear it again.

To the specifics. Physically, Mr. Järvi, especially in the overture, is the most exciting conductor to watch today. We aren’t speaking Bernstein-style showmanship or the majesty of a Solti. Rather, we have a man in full control of his orchestra with every motion. Granted, he has the luxury of a “chamber” orchestra—40-odd players—but his signaling, his dazzling baton-play, his cueing and measured beat were as electrifying to watch as to hear.

The Bremen group, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, could probably respond to anybody, but it was the alacrity of their response to Mr. Järvi which made this such an exciting concert. Exciting and possibly controversial. For the conductor’s tempos were very far on the fast side, at times, as in the finale of the Eighth Symphony, almost hectic (though never headlong). We seemed be listening to an orchestral cadenza rather than a structured movement. Mr. Järvi, like Anne-Sophie Mutter, believes that the original concerts by Beethoven (or in her case, Bach) were taken at this speed, though nobody will ever prove it to be true.

Certainly in the Eighth Symphony, that worked out well. The tale is told that after Beethoven would play the most profound slow movement of a piano sonata, he would give a loud guffaw, while the audience was sighing, The Eighth is a Beethoven laugh. And Mr. Järvi played it to the hilt.

That work is especially made for the Bremen Chamber Orchestra, since the scoring is never clogged or blurred. On a recording, or with a larger orchestra, you might simply hear the explosive end of the first-movement development (and Mr. Järvi loves his explosions). Here, though, you could listen to the bass theme come through under the great chords. The second and third movements had a kind of mock-finesse, but the finale was crazy—in the best way. It was velocity, energy, not so much vivace as extreme brio, so that the fake endings came as punch lines to a huge joke.

If this was hearing the F Major in new garb, what would Mr. Järvi do with the “Eroica”? First, with possibly the finest chamber orchestra in the world, he could afford to play around with balances. He gave the timpani countless chances to bang through the more explosive parts of the opening movement, he let the horns play merrily in the Scherzo (albeit with one fluff), and the strings simply had to sound as they were, perfect.

But with these tempos, he had more than enough challenges. The funeral march was, yes, more sprightly than usual, but the control was such that it was still a magisterial movement. Even more important, the clash of chords at the climax was almost frightening, since we could hear every instrument, one fighting against the other to be heard.

The finale had equal personality, which was not ever stolid, never the stern frowning Beethoven, but a composer who, more the Greek god than the Roman Emperor, loved wit, little practical jokes (the end, of course) and the delight of inspiration.

Back to the first memories of Consecration of the House. This was no orthodox overture, it was hardly balanced, Maestro Järvi often brought out the bass and brass over the more plain-spoken higher string themes. But one doubts that Paavo Järvi paid much attention to the usual nasty portrait of Ludwig. He was looking for exuberance, muscularity, and the joy of inspiration. With his orchestra, he achieved all three.

Harry Rolnick



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