The complete Beethoven symphonies are, of course, those that open up a new world of music after the marvels of Classicism produced by Haydn and Mozart. The "nine" Schubert ones are really eight, for Nº 7 disappeared, and only Nos. 8 and 9 break untrodden paths; alas, they were known decades after his death. There´s a lot to admire in the five Mendelssohn symphonies and in the four numbered Schumann opuses, but the next essential advance will come with the four by Brahms. And the world of Post-Romanticism will culminate with the nine numbered symphonies by Bruckner and Mahler. One isolated figure, Hector Berlioz, led a parallel development with his "Symphonie fantastique" : that of the programmatic symphony. Though even there, the precedent is Beethoven´s "Pastoral".
The now departed Pedro Pablo García Caffi had a good idea when he programmed the nine Beethoven symphonies within a March week, by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic led by its Principal Conductor, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, thus initiating the tenth year of his tenure. It was a pre-season subscription series at moderate prices, which meant that we had a much younger public than at the season series, and I´m happy to report that it was a smashing success with sold out houses.
In fact, the Phil hasn´t done the whole series for a very long time, so it was fully warranted, even if the National Symphony did it last year under Pedro Calderón, for they are almost wholly different audiences (the NS is characterised as a free season). Moreover, it was good to have them in a concentrated way, without hogging the time of the meager 15 concerts of the announced season.
I was amazed at the high standard of the Phil after their long vacation. Confirming both the individual value of the players and the fine training under Diemecke´s always sure hand, there were precious few mistakes and many golden minutes of lovely playing.
The programming was ideal: Tuesday, Nos. 1 and 3; Wednesday, 2 and 5; Thursday, 4 and 6; Friday, 7 and 8; Sunday, the Ninth. I don´t know how long they rehearsed, if one week or two, but the conductor´s commanding gestures were always minutely followed by the orchestra. One matter that for some was bothersome and for others welcomed: García Caffi decided that this year the night concerts, ballets and operas will begin at 8 p.m., not 8,30 as long tradition had accustomed us. (The Ninth was at 5 p.m.).
An important matter in these hot days: there was correct air conditioning (it hadn´t been so in December: I was roasted live seeing "The Nutcracker"). Even more valuable: there was no applause between movements during the whole cycle, and quite minimal mobile phones ringing. Hallelujah...And there were no placards protesting against García Caffi! (they were present for months late last year).
First and Third. Don´t believe those that tell you that the First is influenced by Haydn and Mozart: Beethoven revered both, but he was his own man by the time of his First Symphony, and the nervy dynamism and strong contrasts, as well as his building abilities, are all there. As to the Third, "Heroic", I held when I was ten that it was the greatest symphony ever written and I still think so 66 years later (I may be wrong but at least I´m coherent; and frankly, I don´t think I´m wrong). This night was blessed: both the Phil and the conductor were at their very best. And for the only time , Diemecke adopted a disposition I liked: first and second violins front to front, violas close to the firsts and cellos to the seconds. By the way, first desk players varied from concert to concert and were always good except some trumpet croaks.
Second and Fifth. The Second is a charming score that is too often unfairly relegated; it was finely played. I have come to believe that the Fifth and the Ninth are, for different reasons, the symphonies that are most often played with blemishes. In the case of the Fifth, I don´t doubt that it is a great score, but its level of redundancy is very high as well as being relentless in its so abundant sledgehammer climaxes. To maintain that level you need a Klemperer or a Carlos Kleiber. There was also a snafu: up to then Diemecke hadn´t repeated first movement expositions but he did in the Fifth; at least two horns forgot it and entered with the first chord of the development.
Fourth and Sixth. The Fourth is a jolly score in the fast movements, beautifully executed, and it has a long and expressive slow one, lovingly played (to nitpick, the usually impeccable flutist Claudio Barile entered one beat ahead but I only noticed because I had the score). The Sixth, "Pastoral", is always a delight unless very badly done; the Phil and Diemecke certainly handled it very well, though without the last ounce of open air freshness.
Eighth and Seventh (in that order, surely right). I love the Eighth, so often considered a step back in Beethoven´s production: it may owe more than others to Classicism, but its spry humor, quicksilver speed and constant surprises are Beethoven at his best. And the Seventh is indeed, as Wagner called it, an apotheosis of the dance, probably the most often played of all his symphonies. Drawn by the audience´s enthusiasm, Diemecke at the end repeated the slow movement.
Finally, the Ninth, the gigantic "Choral", with its fourth movement based on Schiller´s "Ode to joy". I may be on the minority, but my favorite movements are the the First for its granitic grandeur and the slow one for its sublimity, close to the last Quartets. Nevertheless, the vocal one remains very impressive, even with doubts about certain passages. For some reason (their rehearsal hours never match) this time the Colón Chorus (led by Fabián Martínez) finally collaborated with the Phil (it´s an absolute shame that there will be no choral-symphonic music in the 15-concert season series). The soloists were good, except the strained tenor Enrique Folger: Mónica Ferracani (soprano), Alejandra Malvino (mezzo) and Hernán Iturralde (bass).
One final surprise: Diemecke, after a strong though not ideal traversal of the Ninth, proposed a karaoke with the whole audience, and we all sang the big tune so often ruined in bad arrangements; the Prestissimo coda was incongruously added. Oh well, so much was good in these five sessions that I forgot the conductor´s silly speeches and his clownish shenanigans when not making music. The public loves it...
For Buenos Aires Herald