News Column

Music review: Van Zweden and the SLSO offer speedy but adept Beethoven, Shostakovich

February 1, 2014

By Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Feb. 01 -- The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's mini Beethoven festival came to an end this week with the most successful program in the four-weekend series. Like the other three concerts, this one paired Ludwig van Beethoven with a later composer. This time it was another undisputed adept, Dmitri Shostakovich, in a match-up of masterpieces. The concerto-less, soloist-less program put up Symphony No. 5 (in C minor, op. 67) versus Symphony No. 5 (in D minor, op. 47), with Beethoven going first. In the hands of guest conductor Jaap van Zweden , Beethoven went by on Friday night in exceedingly zippy fashion. It may have broken the land speed record for this composition; neither my seatmate, another veteran concertgoer, nor I had ever heard it taken so fast. Van Zweden rushed through the opening statement, not giving the familiar famous phrases sufficient space to breathe, and barreled through the entire first movement in the same fashion. He loosened up enough in the second movement to allow the music's spirit to be felt, and kept the balance in the third. The fourth movement, Allegro, however, was downright allegrississimo. I felt for the woodwinds, whose agility under duress has seldom been so necessary or so appreciated. That great leap forward into the final movement resulted in an uncharacteristically messy moment in some of the violins, apparently caught by surprise. Otherwise, the players demonstrated the chops that makes them one of the world's great instrumental ensembles: as van Zweden flung his musical vehicle with accelerated abandon around hairpin mountain curves, the band just kept shifting smoothly and hugged the road, demonstrating once again that the SLSO is an orchestral Ferrari in a landscape largely filled with Fords. Van Zweden's tempos remained speedy for Shostakovich, but it was with a real sense of musical urgency, rather than of Barney Oldfield . Shostakovich wrote the 5th from within a Stalinist doghouse after chilling criticism from on high. There's considerable debate about whether the boffo ending is intended to be sincere or sarcastic, but there can be no doubt about the quality of the score. It moves from ominous to triumphal, with a Mahlerian second movement, distinctly Slavic elements, an amusing dance section and a spectacular conclusion. There were plenty of opportunities for orchestral sections and principals to shine, and they made the most of them, with great work from the brass (who appeared to be having a perfectly wonderful time) and woodwinds. Among individual players, concertmaster David Halen , acting co-principal Philip Ross and principal flute Mark Sparks , in particular, stood out. This concert also brought to the forefront again that new principal timpani Shannon Wood is a gift to the orchestra. He's raised the bar; his sensitivity and strength shone with particular brightness in the Beethoven . The various orchestra players' committees and music director David Robertson continue to distinguish themselves with the quality of their hires. -- Jaap van Zweden and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra When: 8 p.m. Saturday Where: Powell Symphony Hall , 718 North Grand Boulevard How much: $30-$109 More info: 314-534-1700; ___ (c)2014 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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