This should have been Sir Charles Mackerras’ last ever performance of Beethoven’s 9th in the concert hall, but ill health forced him to withdraw.Whilst one must congratulate Ilan Volkov for stepping in at the last minute, this was not one of those occasions where victory was not snatched from the jaws of defeat.Although generally well-played, this performance of Beethoven’s mighty symphony failed to move.
As he approached the grand old age of 85, Sir Charles Mackerras had said that this performance of Beethoven’s 9th with the OAE was to be the last time he conducted the work in public. Expectations ran high as not only was this the culmination of the orchestra’s exploration of Beethoven’ entire symphonic output which began in January, but this is a work with which Mackerras has a long and distinguished relationship.
Alas it was not to be as Sir Charles was ill, so what he would have made of the work is open to conjecture but I doubt if he’d have made it sound as perfunctory as Ilan Volkov did. There was little in the way of depth to his interpretation and he appeared to catch some of the players off guard with his rather extreme tempi .
There were the occasional flashes of inspiration, but they were few and far between although the playing of the OAE was committed throughout. Placing the soloists behind the orchestra didn’t help the balance as Christopher Purves’ opening declamation sounded strained but soprano Rebecca Evans and mezzo Diana Montague blended mellifluously.
The most outstanding contribution of the evening came from the Philharmonia Chorus who sang with pin-point accuracy and gusto throughout, and they were rightly rewarded with the biggest ovation of the evening. Not that joyous climax that one expected to the OAE’s Beethoven Cycle then I just hope that Sir Charles still has the time and energy for another 9th!