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NSO Shines in Beethoven’s Ninth

The National Symphony Orchestra’s impressive performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, heard last night, has set the bar high for all of this season’s concerts. Showcasing a world-class ensemble, Leonard Slatkin led a rock-steady, extremely fluent reading of the work with a light touch. The first movement (Allegro ma non troppo) conveyed a strong sense of discovery with precise attacks facilitated by the timpanist. Movement two (Molto vivace) features the pointed descending octave motif, often heard cleverly from the timpanist. Movement three (Adagio molto e cantabile) could have been more inviting and softer – unfortunately, the woodwinds were doubled in this performance.

Slatkin conducted most of the work in cut time (in two), thus allowing space for quicker tempi that seem fluid and strong, rather than fast. Although Slatkin claims that he is not being “HIP” (reflecting historically informed performance practice) in his comments in the program, de-Romanticizing Beethoven is very “HIP” and gives the eloquence of Mengelberg. However, some aspects of Mahler’s Romanticized edition were used, such as the doubling of the woodwinds and adding of notes unavailable to Beethoven.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Thanks to Mahler, Sapping Joy From Beethoven's Ninth (Washington Post, October 5)
The final movement begins with a few wry references to previous movements. Soon after, the low strings stated the “Joy” theme with sheer beauty, which built up through the entire ensemble in exquisite counterpoint. Bass Morris Robinson, who will portray the Commendatore this season in Washington National Opera's Don Giovanni, was exceptionally good, particularly on the melismatic treatment of the word “freundenvollere” of Schiller and Beethoven’s ode. The Choral Arts Society of Washington nicely portrayed lush suspensions for the word “kuss,” and their voices rose into the heavens to the word “Sternenzelt.”

Jefferson Friedman’s Sacred Heart: Explosion from the trilogy In the Realms of the Unreal is based on a painting by a Chicago janitor named Henry Darger. Friedman’s composition intricately exploited the woodwind section of the orchestra, while the work purveyed an overall sense of brightness and optimism. Switching often between chaotic and simpler material, the work – like the Beethoven – ends with a chorale. Perhaps the performance of this movement could have waited until the first part of the trilogy was written so that the audience could experience it in fuller context. Here’s to a fresh season from the NSO.

This concert will be repeated this afternoon (October 5, 1:30 pm) and tomorrow evening (October 6, 8 pm). The latter performance has already sold out.

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