A modern take on Beethoven, Schubert

23. Nov. 2008 – Conductor Eckart Preu and the Spokane Symphony paid tribute to two classic Viennese contemporaries this weekend: Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. The concert at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox also reintroduced a superb soloist, pianist Norman Krieger.

Preu opened the concert with "Renderings," Luciano Berio's 20th-century take on late Schubert. Using surviving segments from a planned Schubert 10th symphony, Berio orchestrated the fragments in Schubert's style (more or less) and filled in the blanks with a kind of vaporous haze - very soft trills, washes of bell-like celesta passages and the like.

Schubert's mighty Viennese contemporary, Beethoven, was represented by his Piano Concerto No. 3. It is always a pleasure for a reviewer to discover some youngster who plays magnificently. It is more of a pleasure to discover an artist in midcareer who plays magnificently but who has not achieved the wide recognition his artistry deserves. Norman Krieger has been an active concert pianist since the 1970s; he performed George Gershwin's Concerto in F here in 2006.

Krieger's performance of the Beethoven concerto was memorable. His technical finesse, his tonal variety and his firm grip on the music's unfolding narrative were compelling. Krieger and Preu seemed of one mind in showing Beethoven's "symphonic" view of this concerto; not just showy technical display but the dynamic symphonic interaction between the piano and the orchestra. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the slow movement where both Krieger and Preu wrung every last bit of anticipatory tension from each silence and every long-held note. They made this Largo seem to float in an infinite space.

The audience rewarded the performance with an immediate and enthusiastic standing ovation.

Preu led Schubert's C Major Symphony No. 9 (the "Great") to conclude the program. This work, as Preu said before the performance, was Schubert's tribute to what Beethoven had done for the symphony in his own Ninth, finished just a year earlier than Schubert's.

Preu has a special gift for pacing that made this nearly hourlong symphony breeze by despite Schubert's earnestness in expanding Beethoven's complex layers of textures and rhythms. Preu, a trained singer, sought out Schubert's melodic gift even when it was hidden in the thicket of propulsive repeated figuration in the string parts. The interplay of woodwinds and the sonorous power of the trombones were mighty impressive.

Despite an exhausting listening experience, the audience accorded Preu (and his exhausted players) another well-deserved standing ovation.

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