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MIT Symphony's ragged but earnest evening of Beethoven


Conducted by David Epstein

Ruth Ying-Hsin Schindler '88, piano solo.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and

Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor."

Kresge Auditorium, April 29.


T WAS CLEAR from her performance of the second movement of Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto, that Ruth Ying-Hsin Schindler '88 has imagination as well as technique. Her playing of the outer movements demonstrated, however, that she should not have been tackling so demanding a work at this stage in her musical career.

The slow movement was done sensitively. Schindler was quite involved, and produced a flowing lyricism that at times was quite poetic. She also showed here an ability to draw nuances from the music. All in all, this was a lovely movement, aided by colorful woodwind playing.

The first and third movements, though, saw Schindler putting all her effort into technique. She certainly showed confidence in these technically more taxing movements, but there was little of musical interest to her performance. In the first movement, a lack of dynamic contrasts was particularly evident. During the more demanding measures, her attack was almost dainty in its restraint, and failed to capture the drama of the music.

During the slower passages of the Allegro, she did nonetheless show some insight and an ability to illuminate the music.

The closing movement saw her challenged technically, although she showed admirable control under the circumstances. She was not helped by scrawny-sounding strings, however, or by problems in the coordination of the orchestral corps as a whole. A brave attempt, certainly, but it is hard to avoid thinking that Schindler would have done better with one of the early Mozart concertos.

The concert had begun with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, boldly if not quite successfully presented by conductor David Epstein. The tempi were brisk, and the performance at times had a tension which made the brash experiment seem worthwhile. The orchestra was pushed too far, however, and its response was often ragged.

The opening lacked in power, and problems in maintaining precision detracted from the music's drive. The Andante con moto should have provided some respite, but it was lacking in pathos and had a labored feeling to it. The third movement opening saw the cello section in trouble: cellos sounded raspy, and their playing was untidy. There was an element of grandeur to horn playing, however.

Throughout the symphony, there were several pleasurable passages of woodwind playing.

Overall, the orchestra was rushed off its feet. But there were moments when Beethoven did shine through. Epstein has certainly thought carefully about one of Beethoven's most horribly demanding works, and his conception of it is fresh. The MIT Symphony is good enough to try it out, and to learn from its -- and its conductor's -- mistakes.