This Beethoven evening from October 2011 marks Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s final guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker – the end of an exceptionally happy and fruitful collaboration. From his debut in 1991, Harnoncourt conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in 90 concerts in Berlin and at the Easter Festival in Salzburg. For his services, the orchestra presented him with the Hans von Bülow Medal in 2000, and appointed him as an honorary member in 2014.
This concert demonstrates the undiminished vitality of this partnership with a rousing interpretation of the Fifth Symphony, which for Simon Rattle amounted to the “effect of a volcanic eruption”. Nikolaus Harnoncourt was convinced that this is “the only truly political Beethoven symphony”, which takes as its theme the struggle against slavery and tyranny.
The C major Mass, composed at more or less the same time, comes from a completely different world, and its appeal lies in its intimacy and fine rhetoric. However, for Harnoncourt there was a deep connection between the two works: the first deals with Beethoven’s battle with the real world, while the second sets to music his struggle with the ultimate questions of faith.