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2015年11月19日 星期四

van Zweden's Beethoven's Nos. 6 & 7 (梵志登的貝六貝七)

Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 , the "Pastorale" was one of the first classical music discs I heard when I was a teenager. The moment I heard it, I was transfixed. I thought to myself, "how could music be so beautiful yet so powerful, all at the same time?" I was hooked, forever.  Since then I do not know how many times I heard it, as performed by different orchestras and different conductors, Gergiev, Kleiber Abbado, Klemperer, Karayan, Bernstein, Mehta, Celibadache, Barenboim, ...

Last night I got the chance to hear it again This time under Jaap van Zweden as part of his Beethoven cycle. The symphony was first premiered in Vienna in December 1808 when Beethoven described it as "more an expression of feeling than painting." He could not have been more correct. Of course, he wrote it! I learned from the Programme Notes that he modeled the symphony on The Musical Portrait of Nature by J H Knecht published by the publisher of his music at the end of the 18th century and that he regretted having given each of its 5 movements a programmatic title: I Allegro ma non troppo (Awakening of Cheerful Feelings upon Arrival in the Country) II Andante molto mosso (Scene by the Brook) III Allegro (Merry Gathering of Country Folk), IV Allegro (Thunderstorm)  V Allegretto (Shepherd's Song: Happy and Thankful Feelings after the Storm). But I don't think he's entirely right. Our senses don't work in isolation: words may suggest images, images may suggest color, color may connote feelings... feelings are synthetic and operate on all our senses at the same time, thus enhancing our enjoyment, more or less the way different sections of the orchestra playing the same theme or motifs with its characteristic sonic texture, its transients, its overtones, its harmonics in isolation and in combination and thus heighten our enjoyment of the music through parallels, contrasts and variations etc. producing a kind of very complex and delightful unity through variety. Beethoven, however, is not entirely wrong either because his music does speak for itself and after all, if the complexity of music could be completely rendered in words, then what's the point of listening to it. Whatever the truth may be, I think that ultimately the test of the pudding is in the eating. Nothing could ever replace that! So let's listen, not just with our ears, but with our imagination and our heart. The brain is optional because what's the use of the ladder when we're already over the wall?

The version I love best is Furtwangler's. It wouldn't fair if I were to ask van Zweden to be Furtwangler, whose version and interpretation of this great symphony could not have been more different. But I could not help feeling that it would have been perfect if van Zweden were a little less forceful and a little less structural when he came to the soft and lyrical passages. It seems that somehow the words "pianissimo" and "mosso" couldn't be found in his musical dictionary. But of course, that just my peculiarly personal and probably entirely opinionated view. 





The piece after the intermission was Beethoven's No. 7:  I  Poco sostenuto-Vivace II Allegretto III Presto--Assai meno presto IV Allegro con brio. It really a heartrending experience to re-read in the Programme Notes the much quoted passage about how Beethoven was described in Louis Spohr's vivid account of the premiere of the symphony in Vienna December 1813, when the composer himself took the baton: "It was obvious that Beethoven could not hear the soft passages in his own music. He started beating time before the orchestra by as much as 10 or 12 bars when it began a long crescendo. He had crouched down under the music stand and as he thought the music was getting louder became visible once more, making himself taller before leaping high into the air at the moment he thought the loud climax should have been reached. When it did not materialize he looked about in terror and stared, astonished, at the orchestra who were still playing softly, and found his place again only when the so-long-awaited forte began and became audible again."  The joy, the energy, the Dionysian abandon of Beethoven in this symphony is obvious even to the quasi- tone deaf. Wagner described it, according to the Programme Notes, as "the apotheosis of the dance". Is that not what he tried to do too in some of his own music? But one could not do better than let Beethoven's music speak for itself. This symphony is much more van Zweden's genre of music: strong, rhythmic, energetic, requiring a kind of quasi military "chop" in some of its notes, with a kind of resolute pace and almost precipice like abrupt and absolute silence at the end of those dramatic notes. I can well understand the cause for the thunderous applause at the end of the music.