Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with Hans Graf and the SSO
7 Feb 2015 . Sat
Esplanade Concert Hall
(Preamble: Despite coming in almost one month late, I felt that this record would have been worth making. After all, it has been years since I collected an autograph at Esplanade.)
Opening with your Assistant Concertmaster/Concertmistress is, to say the least, and odd experience. Nevertheless, SSO took easily to the tragic gravitas of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. A counter-piece to the Eroica (3rd Symphony), it was treated with great finesse and drama, and far tighter intensity of ensemble than the average subscription concert. Such was the raw worth of the incidental music, that bespoke the greater movement that its namesake began. The winds in particular etched out visions of great beauty, painting scenes of a time long past, of innocence long lost.
Stuck in the purgatory between popular and nouveau, Shostakovich’s violin concerto was probably likewise imprisoned in his unfathomable mind until after the passing of Stalin. Featuring themes from Shostakovich’s other (symphonic) works and the all-too-familiar Beethoven’s Fate theme from the 5th symphony, SSO’s manifestation also placed Yuzefovich in the solo role. Digressing, I first heard Yuzefovich (if memory serves me well) at SOTA in a chamber concert, and my first impression of him was one of clarity of sound and thought. On this night, there was a distinct sense of measuredness, with each articulation and phrase doled out with pointed determination. It may not have been as muscular and prideful as Oistrakh’s, or as clear and soulful as Hahn’s well-known renditions, but charting the flow of the piece would have been an exercise in understanding clinical precision. Most impressive was the ensemble in the devilish (and aptly named) Burlesque, with both soloist and orchestra drawing pulses together by sheer force of will. However, as all things are victim to heavenly capriciousness, Yuzefovich’s (E?) string broke at the very final buildup, mere measures from the double bar line. Shaking his head with a grin, and going through a series of swaps that left the second inner player with boss’ 3-stringed instrument, soloist and orchestra brought Shostakovich’s tour de force to a rousing finale.
After the heavy appetiser and main course, dessert was the quintessential parfait to the earlier steak-and-smoked-hams. Deviating from the (pardon the pun) fateful first half, Graf launched into the (then) revolutionary 7th symphony, reportedly based on purely rhythmical and abstract ideas. Reaching wild levels of popularity, the Seventh breaks several traditions in the same defiant manner that Beethoven broke the piano sonata, what with an extended slow introduction in the first movement, as well as the third movement that possibly marked the rise in popularity of the scherzo. Most popular was the second movement, which reportedly elicited demands for an encore from the a near-rabid Viennese audience. Unfortunately or otherwise, this audience had to be content with a single playing of the symphony.
In a (planned or otherwise) stroke of genius, the programming featured both musical landmarks as well as political timestamps of tragedies (Napoleon, Egmont, Stalin) as well as musical revolution and enlightenment (the aftermath of Napoleon’s invasion in what Wagner termed “the apotheosis of dance”). Conservatively speaking, the effect on this author would be the proverbial “blowing of one’s mind”. Perhaps I would be reading too much into this, but following the rough track of Beethoven’s 3rd, 5th, and 7th would be a simple logical extension. In another universe, one would have experienced martyrdom, liberation, and deification.
33:58 – everyone makes way for the winter storm