Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 27, 2008

Beethoven & Beethoven

Hartford Symphony
Bushnell, Hartford
October 24-25, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

At the pre-concert half-hour talk by Music Director Edward Cumming, his anticipation of presenting two Beethoven symphonies on the same program touched off a spontaneous ultra-fast shuffle in place – while seated. He spoke of Beethoven’s "timeless quality:" His work "sounds like it could have been written just a few years ago....He sets up expectations and then surprises us." Cumming drew a comparison between Beethoven’s classical music and the classic music of Thelonious Monk and Paul McCartney: "Beethoven’s music makes as much sense to us today as the day it was written." Richard Wagner stated that if Beethoven had not written The Ninth, he could not have written his operas.

The Symphony No. 1 in C Major opened gently but within sixty seconds, Beethoven’s assertive style took command. By the third movement, Beethoven seemed to be saying, "Now just watch me fly!" as a lively hide ‘n seek of brass and strings boosted the happiness meter. A structured minuet-like dance complete with dainty steps and quick curtsies exposed the composer’s sense of humor. What a personal accomplishment! While composing this work, he knew he was losing his hearing.

Maestro Cumming had speculated about Beethoven’s thinking as he contemplated a new symphony. After building a masterpiece on four iconic notes, could he build a new symphony on only two? He composed his wondrous gift, the awe-inspiring Symphony No. 9 in D Minor much like a dedicated writer constructs a major novel – experimenting with ideas, discarding some, rewriting others, letting the manuscript rest, returning to rework. Finally, the audience after hearing teaser fragments of the celebrated melody, the bass fiddles played the heavenly air known around the world. The uncounted variations did not slake the thirst for more. (Oh, please Mr. Cumming – Sam – play it again.) With the forceful artistry of The Hartford Chorale and four soloists (soprano Elona Ceno, mezzo-soprano Ela Zingerevich, tenor Tadeusz Szlenkier, and baritone Anton Belov), the Ode to Joy permeated sinew and soul.