Saturday, January 22, 2005

Beethoven blues

Thanks to everyone who replied to the composition/groves of academe post! It's always nice to know that one is not alone in these kinds of experiences - what's more worrying is to realise just how widespread they really are!

Anyway, onwards and upwards. What think you of present-day Beethoven interpretation? I've been attending some of my hubby's orchestra's latest Beethoven series under Kurt Masur. Tom has thoroughly enjoyed the concerts and the audiences have been going bananas even if critics have been slightly grudging. The last is tonight and it's completely sold out.

I am not trying to be disloyal to my orchestra-in-law, but actually the concerts I've heard have left me a little cold. There were beautiful moments: bits of the Pastoral, a lovely light touch in No.1 and so on. But No.7, which is my favourite, felt relentless and the finale of the Pastoral, which has to be one of the most wonderful moments in musical history, didn't expand and sing and give thanks the way I long for it to.

On the other hand, I'm reluctant to put all of this down to Masur alone. I think it's a global trend. I certainly wouldn't trust any of the period bands with this repertoire (the clunky drums alone would put me right off, never mind the squeaky violins), but it seems to me that too many modern conductors just don't give the music room to breathe. Where are the Klemperers, the Furtwanglers, the musicians who don't need to sound as if they have to catch a train, who can bring to life the full measure and depth and breadth of the music? And I don't mean they have to sound like Karajan.

It's possible to give something breadth and depth without it being 'boring' or 'old fashioned'. You can still articulate the slurs and staccatos and shape the phrases without losing the big picture, if you try. You can capture the sense of worship, the transcendence, without fear of association with some bygone political aberration whose practitioners unfortunately liked this kind of thing. And yet I can't remember the last time I was able to listen to a Beethoven symphony and have the really good, exhilarating wallow that I want to have. I'd rather listen to a recording of Barenboim or Schnabel or Kovacevich playing the piano sonatas because they do achieve this atmosphere. Am I being obtuse? Am I missing something marvellous somewhere? Is my taste hopelessly outdated? I just don't know. But one way or another, I didn't feel inspired to go to No.9 tonight.