Iván Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Beethoven 8 and 9

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tumblr_inline_mh343haGbG1qguwtiEllen and I attended an amazing concert last night (February 6) at David Geffen Hall.

Beethoven’s 8th Symphony is my personal favorite. I grew up listening to Bruno Walter’s recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker on a 10-inch vinyl LP on my Dad’s hi-fi, complete with a 15″ JBL woofer and stadium-size horn tweeter. Beethoven made an impression on 5-year-old me. And not just because of Dad’s rig.

The 8th is a small wonder between the huge 7th and the glorious 9th. It’s mature Beethoven in full expression of all of his powers, but in a compact, energetic and buoyant mode. I’ve heard this piece so often that I know almost every phrase — but not as well as Fischer! He seems to have thought through every note, every phrase, every nuance. Wow!

Then on to the 9th. Two movements went by. Where were the singers? The four soloists came out and sat discretely among the orchestra. On to the third movement. Where was the chorus? The third movement ended. The fourth movement started. Still no chorus. The bass and other soloists took their initial turns. Still no chorus.

Then to the amazement and delight of all, the chorus stood up. They were hiding in plain sight all throughout the hall dressed as ordinary concert goers. One was in the row just ahead of us. They were everywhere, including the balconies. And the sound was incredible.Fischer_4

Fischer even had an unusual seating chart for the orchestra. First violins stage left; second violins stage right. Cellos center left, violas center right. So far, not that unusual. But the tympanist sat in front, just behind the podium between the first violins and the cellos, with a truncated drum set (only two, and miniatures at that). The basses lined the back wall. Between the basses and the rest of the strings, Fisher had the horns stage left, winds center and remaining brass right. This arrangement gave the lower tones extra heft and balance, and the audience simply could not miss a beat with the tympani in plain view.

Too bad Beethoven couldn’t have heard the concert, including the seemingly endless ovations.

Phil Neches

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