Mostly Mozart (5): Noseda Conducts a Fiercely Individual Beethoven’s 9th

United StatesUnited States Mostly Mozart (5) Beethoven: Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Erika Grimaldi (soprano), Anna Maria Chiuri (mezzo-soprano), Russell Thomas (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass),Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell (director), 12.8.2014 (SSM)

Gianandrea Noseda  Photo credit: Noseda© Chris.Christodoulou
Gianandrea Noseda
Photo credit: Noseda© Chris.Christodoulou

Beethoven: Overture to The Consecration of the House (1822)
 Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1822-24)


In June of 1977, Voyager 1 was launched. In its cargo was a set of recordings called The Voyager Golden Records. One of these contained an eclectic selection of music ranging from Peruvian panpipes and drums to Chuck Berry’s “Johnnie B. Goode,” and it included two movements from Beethoven’s works: the first movement from his Symphony No. 5 and the Cavatina from the String Quartet No. 13. It’s a shame there were only 90 minutes of music on this analog gold-plated copper disk and no room for Beethoven’s 9th. I’d like to see what an alien’s reaction would be to this particular work. Perhaps it would understand what humans are truly capable of achieving.

In Gianandrea Noseda’s nearly perfect performance of the 9th last night, every note played was right in place, tightly drawn and sharply in focus. From the opening sotto voces to the huge crescendos that follow, Noseda clearly had his own vision. This was no lush, velvety interpretation in the grand tradition of the large symphony orchestra. Pulling back from the detailed music to its overall sound, I was reminded of performances that are historically informed. Lean, taut and crisp are adjectives not often heard when referring to Beethoven’s music, but for Noseda, clarity of the musical lines was paramount. With fewer instrumentalists than are usually used for this symphony, he worked every orchestral group to their max. In the opening movement, the upper hand was, unusually, given over to the winds, the strings almost acting as accompaniments. And why not? Normally, the sounds of the strings section would be drawn out over and above the other orchestral groups, in effect raising their dynamic level; the strings would be played a notch up, for example from ppp to pp (or the winds would be played a notch down from the strings).

In the past, I’ve often felt that sufficient time hasn’t been given to rehearsals, particularly  during a festival such as this one. Here I had no such problem. Seeing Noseda’s rapport with the musicians and singers, no one would know that he was a guest conductor. The orchestra caught his enthusiasm and sent it right back out to the audience. Only in the third movement did I feel a lack of structure. This might have simply been disappointment that the third didn’t reach the heights of the other movements. Certainly there was no problem with the technical aspects of the playing.

The final movement is ultimately the summation and litmus test for all that precedes it. Beethoven himself knew this when he embedded motifs from the three previous movements near the finale’s beginning. The most difficult aspect here is to keep everything under control and in balance but not so tightly as to inhibit the orchestra and chorus. Noseda held that fine line, aided by the excellent soloists. The vibrant chorus under the leadership of James Bagwell belied the fact that they only numbered 50.

I’m not sure what Noseda thought of the audience’s interruptions, but I could understand why they applauded after each movement. He may have planned on quickly segueing from the third movement to the fourth, which could be the reason he brought the soloists on stage at the pause between the second and third movements. Any chance this might have happened was prevented by the audience’s enthusiasm.

The opening overture to The Consecration of the House acted both as a warm-up and a preview of the music to follow. Musically it borders on the bombastic, particularly in comparison to the earlier Leonora and Egmont overtures.

Needless to say, the audience’s applause was tumultuous at the end of the 9th.

Stan Metzger

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