Raising the spirit of Beethoven in a musical seance "Nothing but Freedom", with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln. As always, Roth's flair for programmes creates an experiece that inspires the mind and imagination. Beethoven's passion for freedom played no small part in shaping his music, the "new music" of his time. If we could contact him now, what would he feel about the state of civil liberties today, even in supposedly "democractic" countries ? Would he, in turn, connect with how his values continue to shape music in a very different world from his own. Of course you don't get answers in a seance, but as music, this was interesting food for thought. Roth, Aimard and the orchestra are touring the programme over Europe, with a visit to London's Royal Festival Hall on Friday 21st February. The concert was also livestreamed from Köln last week.
An introduction that was "spooky" in the sense that it was quiet, the notes of Beethoven's Bagatelle in C, Op.119 No.7 (Allegro, ma non troppo) rising upwards, Aimard raising Beethoven before us. From this a completely new work arose : Isabel Mundry's Resonances, unknown to most of us,which was maybe the point - we're entering new territory, where strange sounds and rustlings gradually merge to create a mysterious new landscape.Whirring sound, swathes of brass and high pitched winds : a sense of turbulence, punctuated by thwacks of percussion. Wherever this might be it's not airhead but then neither was Beethoven. Listen to this Beethoven Piano Concerto no 3 "The Emperor" Aimard playing with intensity and verve, Roth whipping a performance full of punch. Beethoven has returned to life !
The house lights dimmed. From the darkness, Aimard played fragments of the Vivace moderato from Beethoven's Bagatelle in A minor, Op.119 No.9. and the Allegramente from the Bagatelle in A, Op.119 No.10 and the Bagatelle in B flat, Op.119 No.11 (Andante, ma non troppo). But what are the strange chords that follow ? Francesco Filidei's Quasi una bagatella for piano and orchestra responds. There are distinct sections, the first wild, the second paced with greater deliberation, Aimard playing with poise and dignity- single notes: lots of "listening" between orchestra and soloist. The final section is quirky, adventurous with a wry sense of playfulness. Percussion includes the clapping of hands. There's a dialogue, of sorts, going on here. Beethoven via Aimard and Roth, reply with the Beethoven Adagio sostenuto from Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27 No.2 (Quasi una fantasia - Moonlight). How sublime those famous motifs feel. Beethoven may or might not get this music but maybe he can figure where it's coming from. Helmut Lachenmann's Tableau (1988) emerged framed by fragments of Mundry and Beethoven. Sheer theatre ! then a reminder of another composer who valued freedom so much that he killed himself in despair, Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Photoptosis, from 1968, is an ambitious piece for large orchestra, teeming with detail, some figures fragmentary, others developing further, like individual voices heard in a tumult. A dense, heavily populated landscape of multi-layered sound.Betthoven, I think, would have "got" this.