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Beethoven & Berio, Orchestre de Paris, Christoph Eschenbach, Théâtre Mogador, September 29, 2004 (FC)


Opening night of the Orchestre de Paris started off with a grand noise. Kicking off the seasonís Beethoven symphony cycle was the husky Beethoven Ninth Symphony with an impressive cast of singers, a big chorus, the orchestraís media-friendly conductor, Christoph Eschenbach, on the podium and TV cameras focused on stage.


Eschenbach has achieved his acclaim by his ability to work up an orchestra into a fine frenzy of music making. His natural musical instincts and leadership skill can take an orchestra of almost any quality and make it sound grand. While the drama and excitement in any work is usually in focus under his baton, with great masterworks some in the audience might notice details gone awry.


Long term Beethoven symphony addicts might notice the lack of precision in string articulation, particularly in the second movement, Molto vivace. Others might have heard the splattered entrance of the brass in the opening bars of the final movement. Regulars might wonder if the attack of the chorus is not quite as sharp as it was when the late Arthur Oldham was cracking the whip there. There are lingering doubts about the balance of the orchestra sound at the Mogador and Eschenbach does not help matters by placing the orchestra all on one level.


Quibble away if you must say the fans and they may have a point. Details aside, the Orchestre de Paris, under Eschenbach, plays with a hearty zest and the audience enthusiasm was unreserved. The vocal quartet had impressive credits but the baritone, Andreas Schmidt, was struggling with intonation problems and he unfortunately sings first. Old timers will remember fondly the singing of Hans Sotin under Kurt Masur and the Orchestra National de France a couple of years ago. Tenor Robert Dean Smith, last heard as Tannhauser in Munich, made fine work of his passages. French mezzo Nora Gubisch and Italian soprano Eva Mei seemed to make easy their music, most of which world terrify an ordinary mortal.


The first course of the evening was Luciano Berioís take on sketches for the unfinished tenth symphony of Schubert. Entitled Rendering, it laced together Schubertís retooled fragments - his easy gift for melodic invention on full display - with modernist noodlings of Berio which filled in the gaps. Berioís 32 minute work, first performed by the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1990, is one composerís tribute to an earlier colleague whose life was too short and whose musical fragments suggest transcendent music left in pieces.


Frank Cadenhead

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