Royal Albert Hall, London

MusicAeterna and conductor Teodor Currentzis

Punk Beethoven turned out to be fast and furious. MusicAeterna play on period instruments so the sound is different and there is little or no vibrato. The first movement of the Symphony No 2 was promisingly reminiscent of Furtwängler, the musical pulse unrelenting, then the jokey Sturm und Drang effects and it seemed possible we were in for something extraordinary. The Larghetto flowed but it was only in the last movement, Allego Molto, that the limitations of Teodor Currentzis’s approach became clear. Fast and furious did not allow slowing of the pace either for musical effect or to allow good phrasing of the solo ornamentation in the woodwind, so on the period instruments these ornamentations became garbled or lost.. But an amazing crowd-pleasing vivacity and the strings of MusicAeterna have fantastic ensemble.

Beethoven’s Fifth further showed the formidable ensemble of MusicAeterna‘s string section. But Teodor Currentzis threw away several of Beethoven’s dramatic gems, the pause at the end of the first movement before the final repetitions of the rhythmic motif. Or the triumphant entries of the brass, including the trombones in the fourth movement, the first time trombones are ever used in a symphonic movement. There’s so much drama in the score itself as well as the possibilities from racking up the speed, rocking the beat and exaggerating the phrasing.

So this was punk Beethoven. MusicAeterna look different on stage to a cnventional orchestra, most of the musicians are standing, swaying as they play their instruments. Their suits and hair styles are snappy and there’s a modern balance between the sexes. Their programme drew a full house but no way of telling if the draw was Beethoven’s Fifth or MusicAeterna. Many around me in the arena seemed to be new to the promenading experience but not a noticeably younger demographic.

We did not get particularly good value in minutes; there was an orchestral encore (unusual these days), the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh. But the advertised programme was less than an hour of music: most rock bands give more than that.

So to talk analogies, Teodor Currentzis sounded initially a bit like Furtwängler on period instruments but he doesn’t have his depth of interpretation, he’s more Toscanni, the original Maestro Furioso. Nor was hearing these performances a revelation like Karajan’s first Eroica. So more Nigel Kennedy, meaning showmanship built on sound musicianship and bringing classical music to a wider audience. Very 2018 Proms. I presume Proms’ founder, Henry Wood, would first cringe and then approve.


Prom 18: Currentzis conducts Beeethoven

Beethoven: Symphony No 2 in D major
Beethoven: Symphony No 5 in C minor

Conductor Teodor Currentzis