As if the music was sticking its tongue out at you: this is how Louis Spohr felt about the finale of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, which leads the listener astray from the very first bar. The movement begins with music that sounds less like a beginning than an end and, to make matters worse, is repeated several times – until a fortissimo beat in a drastically “wrong” key puts an end to the proceedings.
In all symphonic movements, Beethoven violated the listening expectations of his contemporaries in the best Haydn tradition, which is why the reviewer of the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, misjudging the wit and spirit of the whole, thought he detected a “chaotic confusion”. Kirill Petrenko now presents his take on this Beethoven symphony, which is entertaining in the best sense of the word.
He precedes the symphony with two variation works: first, the Haydn Variations, with which Johannes Brahms had his breakthrough on the path to symphonic music. The art of orchestration of the composer, who heard the “giant” Beethoven constantly “marching behind him” as an imposing role model, reached a level here that could hardly be surpassed later. We then hear Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra op. 31, the first piece in which the composer applied the twelve-tone technique, which until then had only been tried out in smaller ensembles, to a full-sized orchestra which included a flexaton, celesta, mandolin and tam-tam. Music full of subtlety that begins with almost impressionistic magical sounds.