Norrington's sensitive reading of "Pastoral" at Great Woods
LONDON CLASSICAL PLAYERS
Conducted by Roger Norrington.
Great Woods, August 8.
By JONATHAN RICHMOND
AT GREAT WOODS ROGER Norrington and the "authentic instruments" London Classical Players proved that there is no such thing as an "authentic interpretation" of a musical work, only interpretations which bring a composer's spirit to life and those which pass it by.
The most remarkable performance of the evening was of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, "Pastoral." It was remarkable for its surprising departures from the recording of the same symphony by Norrington and the Classical Players, released earlier this year. Norrington is known for his fast Beethoven tempi, which he says conform to the composer's desires as indicated by metronome marks on the score. Norrington said in an interview that "you can attend to the music at a great pace, like a racing driver attending to the race course."
Yet, this philosophy, as applied in Norrington's recording of the "Pastoral," results in an overall lack of atmosphere and of feeling. Pastoral scenes are rushed through with careless abandon, and poignant details brushed past unlovingly in an attempt to maintain allegedly "authentic" tempi. Despite a few passages of abrasiveness, the musical images at Great Woods were for the most part idyllic; in contrast with the recording, the music was delivered with subtlety of coloration and depth of feeling.
The second movement, "By the brook," was the most moving, the gentle cooing of winds and tranquility of strings combining to rapturous effect. This movement was the most successful in the recording, too. But the introspective, searching performance at Great Woods far surpassed the recording in pathos and imagination;
I could not imagine a more touching rendition.
The build-up to the fourth movement storm was full of suspense, but was eclipsed by the radiance of the "Happy and thankful feelings after the storm" in the concluding movement, where measured -- not pushed -- tempi and thoughtful, feeling interpretation made for a finale of tenderness and beauty.
The concert also included stirring performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, Beethoven's Overture to "The Creatures of Prometheus" and -- as encores -- excerpts from the Ballet Music to Schubert's Rosamunde, these latter delivered with a fine sense of grace and delicious wit.