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Review: F-M Symphony shows true power of Beethoven

FARGO - As the story goes, Beethoven was so close to completely deaf in the last decade of his life, that after conducting his "Symphony No. 9" in 1824, he had to be turned around to see the audience's rapturous applause.

FARGO – As the story goes, Beethoven was so close to completely deaf in the last decade of his life, that after conducting his “Symphony No. 9” in 1824, he had to be turned around to see the audience’s rapturous applause.
That same, enthusiastic applause erupted in Festival Concert Hall at North Dakota State University Saturday night at the end of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony’s all-Beethoven concert.
By the time a drained looking Christopher Zimmerman, the conductor, turned around at the end of an energetic “Symphony No. 5,” the full house was on its feet and cheering.
Zimmerman and the musicians deserved the spirited response. Introducing Beethoven’s masterpiece, he explained they were picking up the tempo of the piece, more in line with the composer’s intentions. The result was an amped-up performance that delivered an urgent power and excitement to something everyone in the crowd had likely heard.
Of course, the work opens with the most famous, ominous four notes in music (short-short-short-long), but those that knew only that little bit got the thrill of hearing how Beethoven wove that motif through the dramatic powerhouse. By the end, the symphony burst into a triumphant finale, showing why the work is also known as the “Victory Symphony.”
Drama was a theme throughout the concert. The night opened with the “Coriolan Overture,” written for a war tragedy. The performance received added emotion with the F-M Area Youth Symphony’s Senior High Symphony Orchestra playing alongside their adult peers. At 10 minutes, it was the shortest of the night, but packed in a lot, twice breaking the tension with tender interludes, symbolic of the female characters in the play begging for mercy.
Guest soloist Matti Raekallio added his own musical showmanship in Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 5.” The pianist scampered up the ivories with thrilling flourishes, and after a brief trill at the top, rained down the scale, ending in light sprinkles.
The dynamic playing gave way to a calming, subtle second movement which ended abruptly with Raekallio pouncing back on the keys, setting off a game of chase between the piano and the strings.
All three works were taken from Beethoven’s middle, or “heroic,” period. It was a time when the composer was facing the fact that he was losing his hearing and wondered how he would persevere. He wouldn’t just survive, but thrive, writing some of the greatest pieces in all of music, works that stand the test of time and sound as good 200 years after they were first heard in his mind.

Related Topics: MOORHEADMUSIC
For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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