5:40 PM April 7, 2022
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony Conducted by Jakub Hrůša
Royal Festival Hall
Sunday, April 3
Performers: Philharmonia Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša (conductor), Lyubov Petrova (soprano), Hanna Hipp (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), Solomon Howard (bass), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus
It was a lucky Royal Festival Hall audience that witnessed Sunday’s landmark performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Under the athletic conducting of Jakub Hrůša, The Philhamonia Orchestra, superbly combining with Philharmonic Voices and Crouch End Festival Chorus, unlocked the full potential of Beethoven’s masterwork.
Before the main event there was Voriskek’s only symphony, a large-scale work, full of fun and brio. A contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert, one can only imagine what he would have produced had he not succumbed to tuberculosis at 34.
The audience’s anticipation fizzed as the Allegro ma non troppo opened the Ninth – a few disconnected motifs then an enormous crash, pregnant with the promise of what was to come.
The passion of Hrůša was electric. On many occasions, with arms flailing and body twisting, he jumped about a foot above the podium.
With heavy rhythmical pulses of energy and bursts of crisp timpani the Scherzo felt almost like a cavalry charge. Although with ripe bombast and power it has moments of delicacy and the simplicity of birds singing in trees.
The third movement reminded me of the quiet passages of the Pastoral – strangely mournful but underpinned with optimism of better things to come.
There is the mother of all violent starts to the fourth movement – the feel of a primal monster with tentacles clawing from the deep. The work builds with cello and bass, then violins and then the full orchestra, then sudden, profound, silence.
For a few seconds, Solomon Howard had the must scrutinized job in world music – he had to deliver “Freunde” – and he did it magnificently.
The choirs were simply magnificent combination: they delivered a perfect of power, restraint and sensitivity.
At one point, the subtitles displayed a line from Schiller’s poem: “This kiss is for the whole world.”
As the program note sombrely observed: “Against the backdrop of the unimaginable horrors in Ukraine and… other parts of the world, Beethoven and Schiller’s ideal seems far out of reach… that means their message must sing out louder than ever.”