Sunday, 7 December 2008

The Apotheosis of the Dance

Hamer Hall, Melbourne

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has capped their 2008 season with a beautiful performance of 19th and 20th century pieces.

They began with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, a fine example of 19th century water music and beautifully rendered.

Next was Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a fine example of why a lot of 1920s-era orchestral music is best forgotten.

While I’m sure it takes great skill to play it, its atonality and lack of structure make it sound more like the jazz noodling than anything by the Masters.

After a brief intermission to recover from that, we were ready for the star of the show: Beethoven’s mighty 7th symphony.

This was why we’d come. The 7th is one of the finest pieces of music ever written, perfectly capturing the great Ludwig Van at the height of his passionate and creative power.

When first performed in 1813 it was so different from anything heard before that it prompted critics to label Beethoven a madman. You can see where they’re coming from: it starts slowly, winding up through two funereal movements to a third that is nothing short of joyful, before grinding out the final stages in Beethoven’s more signature heroic style.

What was he thinking? Ludwig only knows, but what he did know was how to take your soul on a journey.

The title of the concert is a reference to Wagner’s description of Beethoven’s 7th.

It was, Wagner felt, a divine rendering of the human spirit in music. And in the masterful hands of the MSO and conductor Oleg Caetani, it certainly was.