Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by: André de Ridder
Michael Fowler Centre, 30th Jul 2023
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Da-da-da-dum. Da-da-da-dum. This famous start to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is often played portentously, seen as “fate knocking at the door.” In this performance it was over in a flash, signalling that this was to be a very high-energy version of the symphony. The rhythm of the motif is continually integrated throughout the first movement. It underlies or breaks into quieter passages of lyrical music which seem to wish to console the listener, only to be taken over by another strong and urgent climax.
In more subtle form, the motif continues through the other movements. The second and third movements are more lyrical but still punctuated by dramatic sections using the full resources of the orchestra. I feel like I hold my breath through these movements. Though quieter than the first, for me they have a suspense about them which is only resolved with the exuberant sense of triumph of the last movement.
At the same time as he was writing the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven was writing the Coriolan Overture. It also is a dramatic work with typical big contrasts of pace and power. It tells of Coriolanus, the Roman general who planned to punish his own people and sack Rome. His mother beseeches him to give away his terrible plans. The music beautifully contrasts his heroic and ruthless character with her gentle maternal entreaties. The work ends with his suicide.
Commissioned for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, subito con forza by Korean Unsuk Chin completed the programme. Its opening copies the Coriolan Overture’s and then reflects an aspect of Beethoven which Unsuk Chin particularly likes: “the enormous contrasts from volcanic eruptions to extreme sensitivity”. The words beautifully sum up the concert.
I’d think that Maestro André de Ridder is a wonderfully dynamic and demanding conductor to work under. The ever-good NZSO was in especially excellent form.