Muscular and Large Scale Beethoven Ninth from  Kaspszyk

Schubert, Beethoven: Wioletta Chodowicz (soprano), Hannah Pedley (mezzo), Andrew Rees (tenor), Paul Carey Jones (baritone), Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, Warsaw Philharmonic, Jacek Kaspszyk (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.5.2015 (SRT)

Schubert:     Symphony No. 3
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9


Warsaw isn’t a city I would automatically associate with a brilliant orchestra (forgive my ignorance!), but I found this performance from the Warsaw Philharmonic to be really very fine indeed.  They are a proper symphony orchestra, and their approach to Schubert suggested no truck with the period instrument brigade, with lush, golden brass and rich, vigorous strings.  I thought it worked extremely well, though, and Jacek Kaspszyk’s tempi were most definitely on the fast side, making the whole symphony sound athletic and agile.  He didn’t just try to press everything into the same mould, though, seen most evidently in his third movement where the Scherzo had an entirely different feel to the Trio section.

His approach to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was also muscular and large scale, but lithe at the same time, with fast tempi that kept up the level of energy, most obviously in the Scherzo and the (brilliantly colourful) “Turkish” sections of the finale.  Their first big statement of the opening theme didn’t really hit you between the eyes in the way you might hope, but this was because they were saving themselves for the explosion at the start of the recapitulation, which was enormously exciting.  The growling coda of the first movement and the overall build-up of tension in the finale showed that Kaspszyk could take a narrative approach to the unfolding drama, and I found the whole performance very satisfying.

Despite some fluffed timings and a slightly muddy texture, the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union made an energetic sound for the chorus, conveying the euphoria of the final moments very effectively.  I didn’t rate the soloists, though, who, with the noble exception of Hannah Pedley, either bellowed or screeched their way through most of what they had to sing.

Simon Thompson

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