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Nikolaus Harnoncourt-Beethoven, Symphonies No. 4 and 5

Monday, 28 March 2016 , ora 10.23

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The name of Nikolaus Harnoncourt is directly related to the regret of his recent death and to the fact that this maestro of the baton and his orchestra Concentus Musicus Viena did not leave us an integral set of Beethoven's symphonies. On 5th February 2016 was released the album which includes Symphony No. 4 and 5, recorded just ten months before Nikolaus Harnoncourt's death. It is a live recording of a sold out concert which took place in May, 2015 at Musikverein Vienna and in which Concentus Musicus revived the early music from the composer's time by playing it on period instruments.

A swan song album

Rumour has it that the conductor wanted to give this last Beethoven concert with the orchestra he founded in 1953, before his final retirement from stage. It is speculated that this concert is his farewell from the musical world and a tribute which the musicians from his orchestra wanted to pay to their mentor. Now, we know that this concert and the resulting album left behind can be interpreted from multiple points of view.

Beyond these speculations, already legendary, regarding the emergence of the album, there remains the recording, a base one, even after less than two months from its launch. Two decades ago, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, recorded one of the most original and satisfactory integral set of Beethoven's symphonies with Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

If one compares the performances of the 4th and 5th Symphonies from then with the ones from now it must be said that the tempos of this album are not any different. But, the conductor adds a touch of transparency and instrumental detailing of a cinematographic quality. From the sublime and mysterious opening of the 4th Symphony to the electrifying end of the 5th, the recording emanates incandescent intensity and vitality. It is a pity that the producers of the album decided to not include the applause of the concert hall. It would have shown the emotional feeling of the audience who had the privilege to participate at this unique event.

A final look upon Beethoven's music

Nikolaus Harnoncourt approach towards Beethoven's music makes this album to be a representative of his final look upon the music of this composer. Sony Classical House rushed to release this album after Nikolaus Harnoncourt's retirement announcement in December 2015, announcing it in a premonitory note as one of the last recordings of the great conductor.

The joining of the two Beethoven symphonies is a bold one, I would say, because the 4th Symphony is usually overlooked and by joining it with this symphonic colossus of the 5th Symphony it could end up by being suffocated. But for Nikolaus Harnoncourt this isn't an impediment. He makes out of the 4th Symphony an overture of the concert, a sonorous performance imposing it upon the audience and now upon us, the ones who listen with great feeling of emotion to this album. The dramatic 5th Symphony does not need any special introduction. Nikolaus Harnoncourt performance is an innovative one. In the album's preface, the conductor states that Beethoven was completely misunderstood in his 5th Symphony. Harnoncourt thinks that the score has nothing to do with destiny. He affirms that it refers to 'the revolt of masses' and that this symphony is Beethoven's greatest and clearest political statement.

In this context Nikolaus Harnoncourt revealed surprising sonorous details using wind instruments from Beethoven's period used so rarely on the stage. Their tone adds a note of dramatism to the score.

Gabriel Marica
Translated by Ana Vartolomei
MTTLC, the University of Bucharest