A Review of the Opening concert of WASO’s Beethoven Festival
Reviewed by Will Yeoman
on the 25th August 2014
Perth Concert Hall
This year saw Israeli-born conductor Asher Fisch take up the position of Principal Conductor of the WA Symphony Orchestra – and boy has he already made a difference. Not that WASO wasn’t already a fine orchestra; it just lacked consistency and individuality, and it’s taken Fisch, a protege of Daniel Barenboim and somebody whom the orchestra clearly adores to make real and lasting inroads into moulding a more distinctive, committed band.
One of the ideas behind performing all nine Beethoven symphonies over two weekends – a first for WASO – was to hone the orchestra’s technique within the context of a variegated yet unified body of work. It was also, of course, to allow audiences to take what could arguably be thought of as the journey of a lifetime: Beethoven’s as well as theirs.
This first concert featured Beethoven’s first two symphonies (premiered in 1800 and 1803 respectively) as preludes to the mighty Fifth, premiered in 1808. As such, it was an opportunity to hear Beethoven gradually feeling his way through the classical world of Mozart and Haydn towards an entirely new universe.
Using a scaled-back lineup befitting the classical proportions of the earlier works, Fisch and WASO relaxed into the Adagio opening of the First before ripping through the Allegro con brio with the same daring and aplomb they demonstrated in the Finale; the Andante and Menuetto and Trio highlighted the more intimate and restrained aspects of both Beethoven’s writing and WASO’s playing. The Second followed suit, and it suffices to highlight the beautiful sonority in the strings during the Larghetto and the poised eloquence of the oboes and bassoons in the Trio.
If the Third Symphony first showed what Beethoven was truly capable of orchestrally, the Fifth took rigour of thought and originality of expression to new heights. Those qualities were highlighted by Fisch and WASO: from the appearance of “that” motif through to the triumphant Allegro finale, it was clear they were wrestling with the thesis of period performance practice and the antithesis of soupy anachronistic romanticism. The result was a powerful, satisfying synthesis that seemed both familiar and new.
The WASO Beethoven Cycle concludes next weekend.