Edmonton Symphony Orchestra all Beethoven concert: review by Isis Tse

William Eddins                                 photo: ESO


Winspear Centre

Wednesday, May 17, 2017




BEETHOVEN: Overture from Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (“The Creatures of Prometheus”), Opus 43

BEETHOVEN: Romance for Violin No. 2 in F major, Opus 50 (Eric Buchmann, violin)

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Opus 93

BEETHOVEN: Romance cantabile in E minor
Elizabeth Koch (flute), Matthew Howatt (bassoon), Bill Eddins (piano)

BEETHOVEN: Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Opus 56 “Triple”
Robert Uchida (flute), Rafael Hoekman (cello) Bill Eddins (piano)

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s “Immortal Beethoven” concert on Wednesday, May 17, featured, as the title suggests, an all-Beethoven program. Two days earlier, Metro Cinema (at the historic Garneau Theatre) had partnered with the ESO to co-present the film “Immortal Beloved” in anticipation of this concert.

The works on the program were certainly some of the less commonly played works, mainly from Beethoven’s middle period. The program began with the Overture from The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven’s only complete ballet. Beethoven isn’t a composer who comes to mind when one thinks of ballet, but the work had been relatively well-performed during the composer’s lifetime.

The concert featured many ESO members as soloists, beginning with associate concertmaster Eric Buchmann with Romance for Violin No. 2. The delicacy and youthful phrasing of the Romance shine in Buchmann’s performance. While the piece is largely free of the angst which we could come to associate with Beethoven, the dynamic and mood contrasts in the piece could have been more dramatic, particularly in the arpeggiated sections.

While Beethoven’s middle period is often nicknamed his “heroic” period, these selections present a more light-hearted, humorous side of the composer. His Eighth Symphony quickly followed his Seventh, but bears little resemblance to its famous predecessor. At the time of its premiere, the Eighth was met with confusion by audiences. According to his student Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s response to the lukewarm reaction of audiences as compared to the popularity of the Seventh was because the Eighth “is so much better”.

The orchestra delivered on the charming aspect of Classicism. However, the transformations of the first theme, the unusual harmonies, and the strange silences of the first movement weren’t given the special treatment needed to bring them to light. In the middle of the movement, the building harmonic and dynamic intensity leads towards the resolution with the forte-fortissimo (fff) restatement of the first theme in the bassoons, cellos, and basses; however, it was not quite punctuating enough to truly resolve the tension.

The second movement, rather than being a traditional slow movement, is a quaint Scherzo. The incessant rhythmic ticking of the winds, captured wonderfully in this performance, is a reference to his friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, who had invented the metronome. The third movement, a minuet and trio, is a nod to Mozart and Haydn; Beethoven had generally used the faster Scherzo form in the third movements of his previous symphonies. The minuet featured lyrical and sensuous lines, with the accompanying trio showcasing delicate chamber music playing. The finale is a showcase of Beethoven’s humour, with the out of key C-sharp (in the key of F major) punctuating the music, until it brings the movement to the unlikely key of F sharp minor. The drama of this C sharp is lost within the texture, making the resolution sound too easy. The extended, spirited coda, which reinforces the tonic F major with out-of-proportion exuberance, brought the symphony to a close.

The second half of the program began with Romance cantabile in E minor, showcasing more of the ESO musicians’ expressive and delicate playing as soloists: Elizabeth Koch (principal flute), Matt Howatt (acting principal bassoon), and Bill Eddins. The concert concluded with the rarely performed Triple Concerto, featuring concertmaster Robert Uchida, principal cellist Rafael Hoekman, and Bill Eddins on piano. With the soloists’ entrances in the first movement, it was clear that this would be a melodious, gentle rendering of the Concerto.

As with any piano trio, the balance of the instruments was an issue; both Uchida and Eddins are certainly team players, but Hoekman, in the lower registers especially, struggled to be heard in the large hall. The Largo showcases the trio’s heartfelt playing, with a seamless transition into the lively, joyous finale. The audience was glad to hear the energy from these soloists, and they were met with a standing ovation.

The Winspear was nearly fully packed for this concert. It was refreshing to see such a large turnout, especially given that it was a Wednesday. Groups of schoolchildren in attendance received special recognition from Bill Eddins; hopefully, these young children will be supporting classical music in their futures.

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