Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Measuring the Immeasurable

Measuring the Immeasurable

By Tom Wachunas

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Op. 84 (1810); Concerto in C Major for Violin, Violoncello, Piano and Orchestra, Op. 56 (1805); Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (1807)

Beethoven: Claremont Trio – Emily Bruskin (violin), Julia Bruskin (cello), Donna Kwong (piano); Gerhardt Zimmerman (conductor)

The November 8 all-Beethoven concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra was more than a memorable celebration of the composer’s indelible signature on the history of music. It was in fact an electrifying demonstration of the disciplined sonic power that makes the Canton Symphony Orchestra such a wonder to behold.

Beethoven was thrilled at the prospect of writing incidental music for a revival of Goethe’s 1788 stage drama, Egmont. Beyond his abiding admiration for Goethe, Beethoven identified with the play’s message of victory over political and religious tyranny, and his music for the overture brings to bear all his genius for communicating triumph amid tragedy. From the opening movement’s somber, whispered rumblings, through the quickening pace of the optimistic Allegro, to the inspiring ebullience of the thunderous finale, the orchestra unfolded this piece with riveting authority.

It is with equal authority that the youthful Claremont Trio delivered Opus 56, commonly referred to as the Triple Concerto. In his astute (as always) program notes, Kenneth Viant observed that this work is a relatively neglected one, and unfairly so. I wondered if the ghosts of negative critical reception of its 1808 premiere still might be haunting it, or if it has been consistently overshadowed by the Eroica symphony and the Appassionata Piano Sonata. Those works were composed immediately preceding and following, respectively, Beethoven’s completion of the Triple Concerto, and are often regarded, in comparison, as more exemplary of the composer’s gifts for sustained dramatic content.

From that perspective, I think a fairer consideration of Triple Concerto is that more than ample drama lies in the successful performing of its joyously rich and formidable technical challenges. And in that regard, the Claremont Trio – a delightful personification of very real musical passion and virtuosity- set the house afire.

Indeed, the traditional concert etiquette of refraining from applause until all movements of a work are performed was pleasantly breached at the conclusion of the opening, very long Allegro movement. It is a movement of substantial intricacy, and in many ways a complete entity unto itself. After hearing its myriad rhythms and grand crescendos, played with white-knuckle finesse and breakneck speed by cellist Julia Bruskin and violinist Emily Bruskin (twin sisters), and pianist Donna Kwong, the audience responded immediately with vociferous applause. Also noteworthy is that while the piano part is certainly vital to the chemistry of the work, it was written with distinctly fewer challenging passages per se than those for cello and violin. Kwong’s technique was nonetheless flawless, delivered with sonorous warmth along with its own share of gentle flamboyance. Additionally, the trio performed, at times, as three separate voices engaging in highly animated and nuanced conversation. At other times, they spoke as one voice, perfectly balanced and seamlessly blending with the subtle ebbs and flows of the orchestra.

Closing the evening was arguably the greatest symphony ever written- the inimitable, indomitable Fifth. I confess to waxing hyperbolic in my praises of the work, as well as its performance on this occasion. Quite simply, this Beethoven masterpiece ranks among humankind’s most noble and glorious concoctions. Here, there was no overly- ponderous rest in the famous opening four-note couplet. Instead, Maestro Zimmerman and his orchestra seemed inextricably connected to a reading of the music that was all about unbroken, quickening excitement – an urgent appointment with Fate that Beethoven allegedly claimed as his theme.

It was particularly interesting that Zimmerman opted to include the third movement repeat. Beethoven’s original score showed a repeat mark written after the scherzo and trio sections, indicating that the orchestra was to play those sections again from the beginning. Most modern transcriptions eliminated the notation, following the long-held belief that the shorter reading was closer to the composer’s ultimate intentions. Some conductors, however, have become receptive to retaining it and, in the end, the choice here afforded an already enthralled audience all the more time to revel in the orchestra’s facile mastery of the music’s searing emotionality.

Whatever spirits might have driven Beethoven to such musical heights, I am fairly convinced they were of the angelic kind. I am also convinced that they were on hand for this concert, inspiring a truly magnificent performance.

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