Reviews

 

The Albuquerque Journal
October 21, 2014
Review by D.S. Crafts

The New Mexico Philharmonic chose to begin its new Classics season with a study of contrasts in similarity. Two Symphonies No. 9 — by Haydn and the Choral Symphony of Beethoven. For Haydn it was an early work (9 of 104 symphonies), while for Beethoven the culmination of a lifetime's work. The two pieces document the span of the symphony from light court entertainment to music that probes the depths of Hegelian philosophy. But Haydn was no mere entertainer and throughout the compass of his symphonies he took the form as far as his world view would allow. It was for the revolutionary tendencies of Beethoven to take it beyond.

With its small ensemble Haydn's symphony seemed almost a desert flower blooming in the spacious landscape of Popejoy Auditorium. To our classically-trained ears its three movements lacks a finale. It ends, rather, with the Menuetto, the usual penultimate movement in later times. Even in this early work, Haydn's genius shows sensitivity to orchestral contrast and instrumental differentiations. The slow movement is the highlight with guest conductor Grant Cooper[cq] giving it an ease and grace almost in intentional sharp contrast to the violence and rough hue of the Beethoven. The Menuetto featured a beautiful solo oboe (Kevin Vigneau) in the trio.

The opening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony is gigantic, the most expansive and powerful introduction to any musical work that had yet been heard. It would take Wagner's cinematic opening to the Ring cycle to surpass it in scope. Yet for the enormity of size the work remains sonata form of the most pure, and ironically it also serves as model for later works that intentionally eschewed the Classical form, redefining the time-scale of music by its very act of compression.

Though it seems bewildering to us today, Beethoven originally conceived the final movement to be instrumental, and even once despaired that the choral finale was wrong and should be replaced. He had intended to use the music which became the finale of his String Quartet in a minor. Yet for whatever the composer's misgivings (and they mustn't be taken too seriously), the choral ending clarifies the meaning of the entire work.

The final movement begins quite literally with a summing up as if to say, as in a TV serial, "Previously in the 9th Symphony. . ." The cellos and basses described vehemently in recitative why none of the music thus far is fully sufficient to the greater purpose, then in octaves stated for the first time what the entire work had been building to, the Ode to Joy theme.

The production featured a strong quartet of singers, especially baritone Edmund Connolly with his stentorian cry of "O Freunde" followed by the initial vocal iteration of the theme. Tenor Robert Allen sang powerfully in the military march segment. The huge chorus, called the New Mexico Philharmonic Collaborative Choir was impeccably prepared by Maxine Thévenot, her own Polyphony chorus crowning the ensemble.

The evening began with Grant Cooper's Akademedie 1824, virtually a pre-concert lecture with orchestral and chorus examples, developed for an audience c. 1824.