In the world of classical music, the year 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. As his music is part of the core repertoire of the Berliner Philharmoniker, he would have been celebrated with numerous performances at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden which had to be cancelled due to the corona crisis. The Missa solemnis and a staged production of Fidelio under the direction of chief conductor Kirill Petrenko were planned, and members of the orchestra were also to perform all of Beethoven’s string quartets.
The fourth and final episode of the digital Easter@Philharmonie Festival also features Beethoven’s chamber music: in two newly recorded contributions for the festival, the Philharmoniker’s wind players Albrecht Mayer (principal oboe), Wenzel Fuchs (principal clarinet), Stefan Schweigert (principal bassoon), Christoph Hartmann (oboe) and Dominik Wollenweber (cor anglais) perform works by the composer in an otherwise empty Philharmonie.
Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio also features in the festival finale, again presented by Sarah Willis: Zubin Mehta conducts one of the overtures to the opera, and Herbert von Karajan appears in an excerpt from a documentary not only as the conductor but also as the director of the work. One of the most unforgettable events in the history of the orchestra in recent decades was the first concert after the fall of the Berlin Wall. From the recording of this performance comes the finale from Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, performed by Daniel Barenboim as both soloist and conductor. Of course, the composer’s nine symphonies also play a special role for the Berliner Philharmoniker. The first movement of what is probably Beethoven’s most famous work, the Fifth Symphony, is heard at the start of the episode under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a recording which documents the final appearance of the great conductor and musicologist with the Philharmoniker.
But Beethoven’s symphonies have always been a matter for the chief conductors: Herbert von Karajan recorded all nine contributions to the genre three times with his orchestra, and his successors Claudio Abbado and Sir Simon Rattle also celebrated great successes with the cycle. Here, Claudio Abbado conducts the finale of the Eroica, and Sir Simon the fourth movement from the Pastoral.
The online festival comes to a close with a complete recording of the Seventh Symphony, which was played at the end of the acclaimed opening concert of the 2018/19 season. A year before taking up his post as chief conductor, Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker prepared themselves for their future together with fiery tempi and rhythmic verve.