Breathtaking, bewitching, blazing Beethoven!
Edo de Waart guided the work with great skill at the Michael Fowler Centre.

Beethoven Symphonies 1 & 9. New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Edo De Waart, conductor; Madeleine Pierard, Soprano; Simon O’Neill, tenor; Anthony Robin Schneider, bass; Voices NZ Choir. Michael Fowler Centre, Friday, November 23, 2018

This occasion was nothing short of astounding?and clearly, nothing less was expected. Every seat was occupied. Overflow audience were seated behind the choir. Paramedics were on standby in case of a stampede of the claustrophobic. The Band were in the same stellar form they’ve been in all year. Edo was in his element. Voices NZ were exemplary. The four soloists were in splendid fettle?the ladies floatingly elegant then impressively powerful as required; the men … well, Mr O’Neill was polished and spirited as ever, but it’s no disrespect to say that he was overshadowed by Mr Schneider?first, because young Anthony is eleven feet tall, and second, he’s quite simply louder than Simon when in full throttle. What a voice! This is a classic big black basso sonority of which legends are made, and I suspect will be.

It has been noted to the point of tedium that Beethoven’s first symphony continues the classicism of Haydn and Mozart and sounds just like them. That made it the perfect appetiser, in fact, for the breathlessly awaited 9th. By the time he wrote the latter, Beethoven had already opened the floodgates to Romanticism with his 3rd and 5th. He had also become well and truly deaf. The story is told that he conducted the premiere in Vienna in 1824 with an assistant conductor giving the real direction beside him. At some point, vociferous applause broke out. Beethoven, oblivious, kept on conducting what he was hearing in his head. The assistant turned him round to see if not hear the audience’s roars of approval. (Of interest is that it was the practice in Beethoven’s time not only to applaud between movements but also, if the spirit so moved the crowd,?during?movements!)

The fourth movement famously sets to music the lyrics of Schiller’s?Ode to Joy. It bathes in great themes, as is Romanticism’s wont?romantic love, brotherhood, heroism, bliss. Small wonder that the 9th was chosen to be the centrepiece of the joyous ceremonies marking the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Leonard Bernstein took the liberty of changing Schiller’s “joy”?freude??to “freedom”?freiheit. (Some aficionados believe that’s what Schiller intended it to be anyway!)

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is a glowing landmark in the evolution of Civilised Man. Everyone present rose to the occasion perfectly and, in the case of the bewitched audience, literally. It was reassuring to anyone like me who fears the lights are going out to see this epochal gem receive such a rapturous reception, especially from so many youngsters criminally deprived by our depraved “education” system of any exposure to the high points of Western Culture.

Another glowing landmark lies just ahead: Handel’s?Messiah. Wellington Sat 8 Dec, Palmerston North Sun 9 Dec. Don’t miss it!