Beethoven triple treat

JOHN BUTTON
Last updated 07:55 16/06/2014
Pietari Inkinen

RADICAL CHANGE: New Zealand Symphony music director Pietari Inkinen during rehearsals for the back-to-back Beethoven series.

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CLASSICAL: Beethoven: The Symphonies - Concert One: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pietari Inkinen

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, June 12

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We hear the Beethoven symphonies all the time but it is rare to hear all nine in a concentrated period, performed sequentially.

So this, the first concert, gave us the first three symphonies and, in doing so allowed us to hear the beginnings of the most radical change in the development of Western music. From the First Symphony to the Third Symphony it sees a change as great as any that had occurred in any century that had preceded them. And it is not as if the First is all that conservative. It might show its allegiance to late Haydn but it is covered with Beethoven's fingerprints and the Second moves into a new sphere. Then the Third reveals another entirely new world - the birth of Romanticism.

We know all three works like the back of our hands but to hear them back to back is to experience the radical nature of Beethoven's journey as never before.

Pietari Inkinen did some strange things. He performed all three symphonies with the full complement of NZSO strings, yet he didn't reinforce the woodwind as some large scale early 20th century performances would have done. Also, he ignored the orchestra's baroque kettledrums.

All this suggested performances that would ignore all that has been learnt in the past 50 years about just how to perform these works, but, in the event, nothing could be further from the truth. Even with such a large string section there was throughout all three symphonies a lightness of texture, an inner clarity and a firmness of pulse that was startling. The tonal differences between all three works was starkly drawn and the detail that was revealed was a masterclass. Never did things drag, thanks to tempos that, while never at Beethoven's metronome extremes, were swift and vital. The outer movements of all three symphonies were often daringly quick but played with such assurance as to be exhilarating.

This concert revealed Inkinen as a young conductor unrecognisably finer than the one who was so unconvincing with the Ninth Symphony three years ago.

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- The Dominion Post

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