Beethoven works soar with attention to detail
14. Oct. 2005 – Beethoven works soar with attention to detail;
Beethoven and the Spokane Symphony enjoyed a sold-out house Friday night. And the audience at the Opera House clearly loved Beethoven's two most justly popular symphonies - the Third and Fifth - under the baton of Eckart Preu.
Preu's purpose, he said earlier this week, was to recover some of the qualities of these two works that made them so startling to their first audiences. He succeeded through his choices of tempos - some of them strikingly different from the average - and the care with which he emphasized Beethoven's use of wind instruments, which so often are buried under layers of string sound.
The evening opened with Beethoven's Third Symphony, usually referred to as "The Eroica." It is a heroic masterpiece of immense length and complexity. There were times of not-quite-together ensemble and passages in the strings where intonation lapsed. But the overall effect was fresh as the energy accumulated relentlessly in each movement, whether the energy was somber as in the Funeral March second movement or humorous as in the scherzo.
The capstone of "Eroica" lies in the huge variety of moods in the finale, beginning with the statement of a stark bass line that serves as the foundation for an unfolding set of variations. Preu led the audience through Beethoven's increasingly complicated counterpoint that threatens to become hopelessly tangled until it dissipates in a wild gypsy dance, and then the long slow section, which is some of the most compelling music in all Beethoven's work. The final lunge to the end came as a great release.
No matter how many times audiences hear the "Eroica," that conclusion never fails to bring a thrill. And Friday's audience rose to reward Preu and the orchestra for that thrill.
The Fifth Symphony is a very different work. Just how different was shown in Jason Steinbrecher's emotionally compelling reading of portions of a letter Beethoven wrote before beginning work on the Fifth. In it, he bemoans his deafness and the lack of understanding he received from his fellow men. Preu immediately launched a performance of the Fifth whose first movement reflected Beethoven's torment almost as powerfully as the words of that letter.
I have always wondered about the odd combination of lyrically beautiful passages with those of stately pomp in the Andante. It struck me Friday that these were the very things Beethoven thought he was missing - the beauty of nature and human intimacy and the recognition he knew he deserved. Preu made the remaining two movements seem a triumphant overcoming of these torments.
The Fifth is jampacked with emotion and condensed to a far greater degree than the "Eroica." Again Preu allowed the details of the wind parts to emerge with greater clarity and effectiveness than is often the case.
The performance Friday ran longer than usual with a full-length program plus an encore of Beethoven's battle music to his semi- symphony "Wellington's Victory." This noisy piece, completed with (computer generated) artillery, is decidedly less than Beethoven at the level of the Third and Fifth symphonies. It was a bang-up close to the evening.