|Back to HOMEPAGE
Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing
Beethoven under Zacharias:
a painful experience.
Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 3rd April 08
Filed 04 Apr 08
It should have been a most enjoyable evening of Beethoven, played by a chamber orchestra that is capable of playing sublimely. They surely weren't going to do another dreadful Olli Mustonen-type of massacre of the master (1), were they? Sadly they did just that, but this time under the direction of the equally proclaimed Christian Zacharias.
The warning was there in the preliminary advertising and in the anonymous description of Zacharias in the concert programme:
"Christian Zacharias is considered to be one of the great German pianists and one of the most remarkable musical explorers of our time. Known for his consistent and uncompromising individuality ......"
"A truly visionary musician"
Beware such woffle. It seems to be code for the attempt to transform Beethoven into less than subtle pop music, which it most certainly is not. Popular, yes: but not pop music as we have come to know it, all too often characterised by its excessive noise and raucous nature.
The all-Beethoven concert started with Overture: Coriolan. True enough, it contains "some of the most explosive and violent music Beethoven ever wrote" (Stephen Strugnell's programme notes), but not all of it. it was conducted in the manner of a heavy weight boxer. The noise levels were far in excess of what was appropriate for the small hall with its near perfect acoustics. Plaintive subtleties were lost in the general din. One only hoped that the style would change for Piano Concerto No 2 with Zacharias as pianist/director. It didn't.
This superb concerto was played like a romp in the park. It was played to superficially impress with a lot of noise and a severe lack of nuance and subtlety. The magic moments of Beethoven's genius were sacrificed for bravado and din. Much of what should have been intricate detail of piano playing came across as an amorphous blur.
Try comparing the "consistent and uncompromising individuality" of Zacharias with the playing of the same concerto by Pierre-Laurent Aimard with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Nicholas Harnoncourt, or that of Alfred Brendel with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle. The comparison is that of the vulgar with the exquisite.
Take for example the third movement of Beethoven's first piano concerto which is known as no 2, according to when it was published. Enjoy, when it is well played, the mischievous fun, the beautiful interplay between soloist and orchestra, the fascinating modulations and cross rhythms, the tantalising restraint with an exquisite delicacy and clarity of touch that keeps a tonne of testosterone in check for most of the time, but then released with dramatic effect. They were sadly lacking with Zacharias.
While the full house responded to this cacophony with loud applause and catcalls, my reaction was to cut my losses and leave at the interval. I just could not bear to hear Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony being massacred in the same manner.
Let's have more of SCO Conductor Laureate, Sir Charles Mackerras: more of violinist/conductor Andrew Manze. They know how to get the best out of this orchestra. How to get its players to display superb musicianship, playing in a manner appropriate for the hall as well as for the composer.
But let's forget the vulgar showmen.
1. Irvine, James (2008). Olli Mustonen abuses Beethoven and Mozart at the Queens Hall, Edinburgh.
See HOMEPAGE, filed 25 Jan 08, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View