1. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1822-24)
2. Carmina Burana, composed by Carl Orff (1935-36)
This double-header of two quite popular works performed by a major orchestra and choir from Prague on tour at one of Berlin’s finest venues seemed like a guaranteed success. The first two movements of Beethoven’s Ninth started off the afternoon well: both the tension of the first and the rhythmic stops and starts of the second were handled with grace. The third movement began to drag (although perhaps I can blame Beethoven for not predicting my modern tastes), but the fourth began to unravel. It’s the most dramatic and well-known part of the whole work, and the only movement featuring the choir, but the many pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit together. The powerful melody shone through, and the soloists did their parts justice, but the timing was rough and the sound was chaotic.
Carmina Burana also seemed to start on a high note with the “O Fortuna” movement, but the signs of discoordination were again soon apparent. With even more musicians on stage, and some changing instruments during the performance, there were even more moving parts, and the performers were not able to get it together. In a particularly crucial moment, the first French horn player even missed a note, eliciting a look of horror from his neighbor. I was impressed by the density, power, and complexity of the work, but the sloppy timing was a significant distraction. Not being familiar with the lyrics and not being able to understand the Latin and Middle High German didn’t help with making sense of the movements. The climax of the “O Fortuna” reprise had moments of rapture, but the wheels had come off and the musicians seemed exhausted such that it came off worse than the first movement.
The soloists were on their game, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the performers. Was conductor Martin Pešík to blame for the lack of cohesion? Did some members celebrate the new year a little too heartily? Was it too difficult to get over 80 musicians together for long enough to sufficiently rehearse these two lengthy works? Whatever the case, I expected a higher standard for a performance like this.
P.S. The groups were billed as Tschechische Symphoniker Prag and Coro di Praga, and it is surprisingly difficult to determine canonical English (or German!) names for these groups.
P.P.S. Thanks to Alyssa, Katie, and Cheryl!
Thursday, January 4, 2024
Prague Symphony Orchestra & Prague Chamber Choir - Live 2024.01.02 Berliner Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany