Monday, February 13, 2012


The great icon gleamed at the end of the point. It was a warm summer's Friday night and bipolar was the order. The opera bar (foreground) was bopping away while inside the sails the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with its chief conductor was beginning this years season with odes at the opposite ends of the spectrum - Strauss's ode to sorrow: Metamorphosen, and Beethoven totally cosmic Ode to Joy: the Ninth.

The house was full, the feeling relaxed rather than anticipatory. It all felt a bit routine. Devoid of the usual broadcasting clutter (to which I have no objection) the concert platform looked rather handsome as did the 23 string players who smartly filed into place. It was an impressive entrance, and quite good theatre compared to the usual comings and goings and warm-ups.

Metamorphosen we don't get to hear to often, more's the pity - but just when to slot it in? It is a deeply serious sad work, and whenever I hear it I feel the mood escapes me probably because it's a mood I try to avoid. And it's straight in the deep end - sorrow, sorrow, sorrow. Again, I stayed one orbit remote from the emotion of the piece. There just wasn't the gravitas to draw me in. And that smooth silkiness of Strauss strings wasn't making it to my ears. The acoustics seemed particularly poor, and the whole effect was somehow a bit soupy. I know that all sounds terribly ungrateful. It's not. I enjoyed hearing it. But I still can't decide when, or where for that matter, is best.

Now the big Beethoven was another matter all together, curate's egg notwithstanding. It was fast and feisty. The first movement took off quick smart, no time for a hint of primorium for Mr Ashkenazy, and away they ran. It was good clean playing and exhilarating enough to elicit a slow to start but swelling round of applause, which extended into bravos! After one movement. Gosh.

The second movement was equally vigorous and presto presto hey presto. But it's the unbelievable beautiful lyrical third movement I love. And I sorry to say I was disappointed. For me the tempo was too fast, robbing it of that languid time doesn't matter now quality, we have to look back and we do, look back not in sorrow, not in regret, but in awareness of imperfection, and in the moment of acceptance look forward, to the realisation that healing is possible, that brotherhood is real, that good will triumph, to joy.

Without that contrast, that baseplate, the final movement, quite thrilling as it was, with the soloists - Lorina Gore, Sally-Ann Russell, James Eggelstone (he's a handsome one, presence and voice, Pinkerton later this year) and the German Michael Nagy making a huge impact on debut - backed by the stunning as usual Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, was the lesser not of itself but in the lack of true providence.

As we left, the city was still wooping it up, the harbour sparkling, the big ship still berthed.

This may not be the best quality you might hear, but for me Furtwängler gets the third movement right. Here is the opening adagio molto e cantabile from the legendary 1951 performance for the reopening of the Bayreuth Opera House. The complexity of the emotions considering the occasion and the nature of the work are reasonably self-evident.

The complete performance if you take the time.

Or, for the time poor, the complete third movement (19 minutes slow) later that year from Salzburg, with the Vienna Phil, now including the brilliant fanfares heralding the final acclamation of brotherhood to come.


Herringbone said...

Incredible vocabulary, vivid description. For me, rereading is mandatory but so rewarding. Sydney waterfront looks cool, Striking building. Opposing emotions, for sure. Art has done this to me before though. A kind of messed upness and clarity to both, maybe at the same time."...Don't think twice,it's alright.." Your explanation of the third movement was awesome. I can see why it would annoy you if it seemed rushed. Beautiful. It's nice to remember that joy is also peaceful and chill.

Susan Scheid said...

I had no idea Ashkenazy was your way conducting I think it was from Ashkenazy's performance (on LP) that I was first introduced to Prokofiev's Piano Concerti. Interesting pairing of Strauss's Metamorphosen and Beethoven's 9th. Seems like it might be almost too much to take in in one night.

wanderer said...

H-bone, too kind.

Susan - Mr A has been chief conductor for a few years now and a very good one too, both at the podium and also by increasing the profile of the orchestra and engaging guests artists. We've been most fortunate.