DW Festival Concert: A weekend of Beethoven

20 Mar

Today's show features two top-notch period ensembles: Les Talens Lyriques, conducted by Christophe Rousset, presents Beethoven's seventh and eighth symphonies, while B'Rock Orchestra, conducted by Alessandro De Marchi, presents the fifth symphony.

The B'Rock Orchestra is a relatively young ensemble. It was founded in 2005 in Ghent, Belgium, and it's known for its historically informed performances of Baroque music. Today, however, we'll hear it perform Beethoven's fifth symphony, known as the "Fate" symphony.

Beethoven's fifth symphony

The four notes that start that symphony are instantly recognizable. "Thus fate knocks on the door!" Beethoven supposedly remarked about them. Unfortunately, as nice as that legend is, there's no historical proof that he actually said this.

For B'Rock Orchestra conductor Alessandro De Marchi, the beginning contains much more than just the idea of fate: "For me, what stands out is this symphony's crazy architecture… What I see is this crazy, delightful architecture and a piece of music unlike anything anyone had ever done before – taking teeny tiny elements, like the four notes at the beginning, and using them to create a gigantic structure."

Presenting Beethoven in a historically informed manner had been a major focus of Nike Wagner, the Beethovenfest director whose seven-year leadership wrapped up with the 2021 festival. De Marchi also tells us why using historical instruments makes things easy for him and the ensemble.

Beethoven - The sound of nature

"Using historic instruments saves us some extra work, because the balance between the woodwinds, brass and strings is simpler and more natural, in large part because the brass are not as ridiculously loud as they are in a normal modern orchestra. And then there's a tendency for everyone to think in a more chamber music way. This brings out the nuances of the score better. And then intestine strings have a sound that is a little rawer than the sound of modern steel strings, and that adds a little more – yeah, let's say it adds a little more rock."

Symphonies eight and seven

Just one day before the concert featuring B'Rock Orchestra, a different period ensemble sat on the exact same stage and also performed Beethoven. It was the famous French group, Les Talens Lyriques, which was founded in 1991 by conductor Christophe Rousset, who continues to lead it today. Les Talens Lyriques performed Beethoven's eighth and seventh symphonies – and they performed them in that order.

Les Talens Lyriques is a period orchestra, performing on historic instruments. And while this might sound like a trip into the dusty past, for ensemble founder and conductor Christophe Rousset, it's anything but. "Exploring 19th century repertoire with this new idea of sound, this new performing practice, is a way of trying new things and try to just take the varnish out and find the right colors."

Just before he wrote his eighth symphony, Beethoven had penned his seventh. In comparison to the rather witty and tidy eighth, the seventh is much longer, and it has a much more serious tone. According to Rousset, there are historic reasons for this:

"The seventh is related to the times, to the war with the French forces, and it has something a little heavier in the expression, because it's about war, it's about victims, it's about wildness of human being. And it's very obvious that the drama is very tensed and sometimes in a very shouting way, very, very loud way," Rousset says.

A bit of Mozart

Les Talens Lyriques' repertoire is quite broad. It includes both instrumental and vocal pieces that range from the early Baroque to the start of the Romantic era. The group wants to highlight the masterpieces of these eras but also reveal new perspectives by presenting lesser known or rarely performed works that nevertheless have an important place in the European musical tradition.

Author Gaby Reucher 

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