In this concert, we encounter works that impress with their powerful choral singing, while fascinating due to their unusual form: Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, followed by Mendelssohn’s Second Symphony, known as the Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise). For this performance of these widely known but not often performed works, conductor Claudio Abbado had the services of first-rate soloists at his disposal: the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the singers Karita Mattila, Lioba Braun and Peter Seiffert.
Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy is unique in its combination of human voice, piano and orchestra. The extended piano introduction is probably an impression of Beethoven’s own improvisation style with which he charmed Viennese high society as a young man. The singers make their appearance only at the end of the piece. The choral finale may seem a little reminiscent of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but without achieving or even aspiring to achieve its resoluteness. This is not about the utopia of a better world but a hymn to music and song.
It is also almost impossible to listen to Mendelssohn’s Second Symphony without thinking about Beethoven’s final symphony. At that time it was fundamentally regarded as sacrilege to copy Beethoven’s merging of voice and orchestra in a symphony, and Mendelssohn was the first composer who dared to include a vocal conclusion following the Ninth. It begins with a four-part instrumental movement that is almost a symphony in miniature. The cantata which follows, with its interchange of the dramatic and of celestial beauty, vividly conveys the Romantic era’s view of God: the mighty ruler who is also a comfort to mankind.