The Apollonian Ideal
Avery Fisher Hall
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphonies # 7&8
Giuseppe Sinopoli (conductor)
When the Semperoper reopened in 1985 many elderly patrons in tattered evening clothes stood for the “Ode to Joy” section of the Beethoven 9. These veterans have a particular kinship with the music of the Bonn master and share with him an intense feel for the indomitable nature of the human spirit. The house was rebuilt after its destruction by fire in 1869 and, like the core of the city itself, rose from the ashes of the Allied bombings to become a vital part of a newly unified Germany. The Staatskapelle has labored hard to divest itself of its National Socialist image (it was here that Hitler sent Karl Boehm to re-record all of the classics without any Jewish musicians) and has become world class once again under the baton of ex-firebrand Giuseppe Sinopoli. Wagner himself was a prior occupant of the podium here and Beethoven considered the ensemble the best performing body in his world. For their first evening in New York, the orchestra presented two works which were originally premiered on the same night: the yin and yang of the deaf genius.
As befits a man with a doctorate in archeology, Sinopoli excavates deeply to unearth the classical proportions lingering in Beethoven. His performance of the 8th sounded almost as if it were a reading of the 2nd, free from the romantic revolution which changed the composer and his audience forever. The orchestra is an amazing instrument, the violin section playing with an extremely woody tone, the delights of Cremona expertly blended in the ear. In fact, the most impressive aspect of this concert was the tutti sound, a product unmarred by any intonational mistakes. Each section is outstanding, the combined beauty ravishing. During this entire concert, I did not hear even one wrong note.
What worked so dazzlingly for the 8th was less effective in the more emotive 7th. Although the orchestra played with the same sense of profound ensemble sonority, there seemed to be something missing in the interpretation. At any given moment, the sonic effect was spectacular, but I truly missed the inner meaning of the passages themselves as well as a sense of a total emotional conception (this is the same bone that I continually pick with Boulez). The technical side of the proceedings was so superb, however, that it almost seemed picayune to expect more intellectual substance.
The roar of the crowd inspired Maestro to summon his trombone section, here for the subsequent Mahler concert, and he launched into a spirited but controlled rendition of the overture to Oberon (Weber was a prior conductor of this magnificent band). It was strangely comforting to hear a few clunkers in the encore but the overall effect was still one of secure discipline. Signor Sinopoli is a native of Venice, home of two of the greatest painters of the High Renaissance. Certainly he imbues his Beethoven with the classical grace and serenity of a Titian, but perhaps he would cut more deeply to the core of these symphonies if he also included at least some of the angst and power of a Tintoretto.
Frederick L. Kirshnit