It was an underwhelming occasion in Vienna when Beethoven premiered his 5th symphony in 1808. It was almost lost in the second half of a four-hour concert, and played by under-rehearsed musicians. How things have moved on.
As part of Sage Gateshead’s ongoing Beethoven symphony cycle – now four down and five to go – here was a performance of what is now generally regarded as the greatest symphony in the repertoire, broadcast live to the world via BBC Radio 3.
The orchestra isn’t up to traditional symphony orchestra size, but, under the baton of young Latvian Ainars Rubikis, they more than made up for it with the quality of their interpretation, both meticulous and spine tingling, from the famous introductory four-note motif, building to its thrilling, grand finale.
The concert opened with the final part of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s turn of the millennium work Etudes and Elegies, written for string orchestra. A Quiet Life was always restless and questioning, finally resolving to its quiet conclusion.
Hyeyoon Park, the South Korean violinist who made her debut with orchestra at the tender age of nine, showed all the personality, technique and sheer musicianship, which her reputation promised.
With her naturally flowing style, she graced the melodic themes in Prokofiev’s second Violin Concerto, with its most enjoyable rondo conclusion, complete with castanets to accompany the main theme. It also featured the niftiest instrument swap that you’ll ever, between Park and orchestra leader Bradley Creswick following a broken string suffered by the soloist. The offending string was replaced and the instruments swapped back mid-movement. Radio listeners will have been none the wiser.
Jean Sibelius’ Suite for Violin and Strings, written in 1929, was heard for the first time in 1990, but pleasingly programmed into the concert, in keeping with the venue’s intention to continue bringing lesser-known classical works to its ever-widening audience. It’s a gambit that is paying dividends.
Its three movements evoke the countryside in spring and summer, and Hyeyoon Park played joyfully, aided in no small measure by the orchestra’s string section, all the way through to its jolly, summery conclusion.
Another memorable evening’s music, coinciding as it did with the Association of British Orchestras’ 2015 convention at the venue. Their theme for 2015 is People Power – how impressed delegates must have been with the musician power on display, together with our area’s upbeat cultural outlook.
Beethoven 1 is the next part of the symphony cycle, in Hall One on Thursday February 26.