Mid Sussex Sinfonia celebrate Beethoven’s birth 250 years ago - review

REVIEW BY Rebecca Dowden

Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 6:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 6:08 pm
Mid Sussex Sinfonia

Symphony No.9 in D Minor (Choral)

Beethoven’s magnificent, ground breaking and final symphony was presented by Mid Sussex Sinfonia in association with Coro Nuovo on Saturday, 22nd February at the King’s Centre, Burgess Hill. A sell out audience of over 300 supported the performers in their commemoration of Beethoven’s birth 250 years ago in 1770. This occasion was also fortunate to have four vocal soloists with flourishing international careers who combined with orchestra and choir to carry the piece through to its triumphant conclusion.

The ninth symphony incorporates Schiller’s poem, An die Freude in the final movement. This was the first time choir and soloists had been part of a symphonic work. Beethoven had known the poem from his teenage years and empathised with its idealism. It addresses the unity of all mankind and the Ode to Joy melody has become, for many, a national anthem for humanity. The work is considered by music historians as the ultimate symphony with its compositional imagination, technical difficulty (for the period) and use of form. Taking on this challenge was quite a task for last Saturday’s performers but one well worth taking. It did feel that the enormity of the undertaking meant that the conductor and orchestra took some time to settle. However, nerves in the first movement did steady after the unison passages. The orchestra responded much better to conductor, Peter Fender’s measured approach to the molto vivace in the second movement and by the third movement had found their usual quality of phrasing and coordination. In the Adagio molto e cantabile, the melodic line in the 1st violins was achieved with a calm contemplation.

The fourth movement brings all the accumulated forces together. The choir which had been well prepared by their chorus master, Andrew Rees, sang with passion, accuracy and richness of tone. This is no easy sing and their courage was rewarded with a sound that filled the generous acoustic of the venue. The soloists, Jo Appleby, Andrew Rees, Mae Heydorn & Riccardo Simonetti impressed. Their wealth of high-level operatic experience was essential for this work as the writing is dramatic, wide in range and requires the ability to project tone and text in demanding, short bursts. I can imagine that keeping hold of the reins on this musical thoroughbred is a challenge and there were times when the tempi did feel rushed. The climax of the piece was resounding and every performer’s commitment acknowledged by the appreciative audience. What a wonderful way to bring so many people together in celebration of such an influential and beloved composer.

Rebecca Dowden