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The first desks of the Boston Symphony are largely populated by men who followed Serge Koussevitzky from Paris in the 1920's. They have reached an age where the music of Beethoven's late period is no longer more sound, and Saturday in the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony they captured that full sense of infinite sadness, complete resignation, and ultimate wisdom that is the essence of the mature Beethoven.
For that quarter-hour, nothing but beauty was present in Symphony Hall. The pages of the score became under expert hands, an exquisite communication, individual to each member of the orchestra and audience.
The music before was not a sufficient cushion for the impact of the Adagio; what came after was, as always, anti-climatic. The performances of the other movements left much to be desired, for the music of the Ninth overstates experience, and Koussevitzky's habitual exaggeration ill becomes the work.
This exaggeration is apparent, for example, in the coda of the first movement, where a gratuitous quarter-rest is added just before the orchestra bounces, fortissimo, into a repetition of the characteristic rhythmical figure. It becomes distortion when the famous theme of the choral movement enters pianissimo where Beethoven has explicitly stated piano.
The Harvard-Radcliffe chorus canot handle the last movement. This is not surprising--no one ever has done an adequate job on it--but there is no excuse for badly timed entrances or faulty intonation. The altos and basses sounded usually correct, although it was not easy to hear them over the roar of a complete string choir, but the music quickly found the weak spots in both tenor and soprano sections, and unfortunately hammered at them through to the last, car-shattering high A.
Professor Spencer has provided us with a new translation of Schiller's ode. This is too bad, because the old translation was so wretched that it must soon have dropped out of circulation, while the poem itself is little more than a reflection of that sugary literary taste which Beethoven often exhibited.
The Haydn 88th suffered from irregular placement and use of stringed instruments. If the string section of the orchestra were cut in half, so as to bring it closer to Haydn's original instrumentation, the beautiful wood-wind figurations might be heard, and the temptation to blasting fortissimi would be eliminated. Koussevitzky's Haydn is pleasant, but it could be memorable.
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