CBSO/Rattle Beethoven Nine review

A CELEBRATION OF THE CBSO'S CHORUSES, BUT AN UNEVEN BEETHOVEN NINE FROM SIMON RATTLE


RATTLE CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN'S NINTH
CBSO at Symphony Hall ****

There was a wonderful sense of celebration here in a totally packed Symphony Hall, welcoming back Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor who actually brought this world-class venue into existence, and who told us "It's a blast to be back, much love!".
The occasion was a fund-raising event to raise funds for the CBSO's artistic and educational outreach work in these times of austerity, Sir Simon's idea, with himself and soloists performing without fee. We were also celebrating the silver jubilee of the CBSO Youth and Children's Choruses, brainchild of Rattle himself and Simon Halsey, who is still at the helm of the CBSO Chorus family and who has worked hand-in-hand with Sir Simon both in Berlin and now at the London Symphony Orchestra.
Ula Weber conducted the CBSO Children's Chorus in movements from Jonathan Dove's Seasons and Charms, a work which, reinforced by James Keefe's bouncy piano accompaniments evoked memories of the jazzy schools musical scores of the 1960s and 1970s. The children delivered the goods with gusto and amazingly clear diction, and the wit with which they revealed the punch-line of "Laura" remains unforgettable.
The CBSO Youth Chorus gave us Imogen Holst's Brittenesque Welcome Joy and Welcome Sorrow, harp-accompanied (Celine Saout), and conducted by Julian Wilkins. Again, diction was amazingly clear, and there was a confident command of harmonies and compass of the vocal range.
Then came the parent group, the legendary CBSO Chorus itself, projecting the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony from memory with forceful immediacy ("Freude", "Bruder" and "Millionen" were hurled directly into our faces), and certainly the trump card in a movement which, despite the orchestra's wonderful playing, was disfigured by manipulated tempi and a bland, unbalanced quartet of solo vocalists.
The three preceding purely orchestral movements fared much better. Rattle's use of multiple woodwind and bumping pairs of trumpets really clarified the textures (was this Mahler's idea?), the Scherzo was given genuine status, looking beyond Mendelssohnian trippery to Brucknerian demonism, and the double variations of the Adagio flowed beatifically, shattered immediately by the intrusion of the finale's vision of a new world.
Inevitably there was an immediate standing ovation at the end, typical of the audiences at some musical or other down the road at the Hippodrome. Fair enough, but I did object to the wimpish unfurling of EU flags (such predictable opportunism, passionate Remainer though I am), making a limp political statement just because Beethoven's Ode to Joy, one of the greatest melodies ever penned, and the EU anthem, had clinched the performance.
When Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven Nine on the site of the collapsed Berlin Wall at the end of 1989, that was meant as a political statement. This concert was nothing like that..
Christopher Morley

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