What's playing / Arden Anderson-Broecking
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 25 is the composer's crowning masterpiece, first performed in 1824 in Vienna, three years before he died in 1827. Composed in an unconventional way with a choral movement in the final allegro assai, it has a main theme that almost everyone recognizes.
It is well known that by the time the symphony premiered in Vienna, the composer was totally deaf. He could not hear a note of his own music, except inside his head, which in a way makes the work even more remarkable, perhaps even miraculous.
The Stamford Symphony, with the outstanding Greenwich Choral Society and four soloists, recently performed the work in front of capacity audiences at the Palace Theatre in Stamford. It was one of the best performances I've heard.
The fine musical director, Eckart Preu, conducted and almost seemed to dance at times, and the orchestra responded in kind. The first three movements were instrumental, complex, precise, flowing and full-out. Even the quiet adagio, which subtly sets up the explosive finale, had an electric sense within it. The playing of the ensemble was first-class throughout.
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The final movement, which is a setting of Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy," filled the hall with clouds of vocal and instrumental sound that at the close brought the audience to its feet in a ovation that gave me chills.
Vocally, this movement, especially the soprano lines, is a "killer" for both soloists and chorus. Of the four soloists, the warm, generous bass-baritone, Daniel Cilli, who began with a recitative section and led into the main theme, and the ringing mezzo-soprano, Teresa Buchholz, were the most effective.
Tenor Christopher Pfund has a beautiful voice, but his slender top range was somewhat overwhelmed by the entrance of the men's chorus.
The soprano, Michelle Trovato, was a quick substitute for the originally announced artist. She had the most daunting music of the four, and she has a beautiful, bright voice, but jumping into that part was no easy task.
The program opened with Johannes Brahms' beautiful choral piece, the profound (and exquisite) Schicksalslied, Op. 84, The Song of Destiny, with the text by Friedrich Hölderlin, a perfect showpiece for the chorus, which had been prepared by the conductor, Paul Mueller. The first section is marked Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll, which means "gently slow and longing," and it was. For a chorus the size of this one, the soft sound it was able to produce was remarkable.
There is a center section that is darker and perhaps angrier, but the piece ends again with Brahms' lyrical, peaceful line.
On Sundays, the symphony invites young people from elementary school on up as its guests. There were a lot of them, and there is a preparatory session for them taught by Leah Pottiger. They learned the main theme, which in one version is a familiar hymn, sang it enthusiastically, and met some of the soloists. What a great way to help kids learn about classical music. Two budding music lovers, ages 8 and 7, who I know very well, offered their opinions after the concert: "Awesome!" "Totally epic!"
That sums it up.
Arden Anderson-Broecking, professional singer and musician, is a music critic and feature writer living in Fairfield County.