Beethoven’s Vibrant Ninth

The PKF-Prague Philharmonia and The Prague Philharmonic Choir performed the classic 'Ninth Symphony,' with soprano Simona Houda Šaturová, mezzo Jana Wallingerová, tenor Richard Samek, and bass Jan Martiník.

The PKF-Prague Philharmonia and The Prague Philharmonic Choir performed the classic ‘Ninth Symphony,’ with soprano Simona Houda Šaturová, mezzo Jana Wallingerová, tenor Richard Samek, and bass Jan Martiník.

It must be nice to be a member of the chorus during a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – even if you have to wait 45 minutes to sing …

Otherwise known as “the Choral,” the symphony which is now generally acknowledged as Beethoven’s finest was also the first by a major composer to use a chorus.

But that chorus doesn’t stand up to sing until the fourth and final movement of the symphony.

The singing members of the Prague Philharmonic Choir arranged on the loft above the stage at The Rudolfinum October 5 therefore had the pleasure of both attending and performing in a concert.

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It was worth the wait. The singing in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the famous “Ode to Joy,” with lyrics by the German poet Friedrich Schiller. The entire composition builds up to this formalized yet infectious expression of happiness, and the voices add a voluptuous texture that delightfully filled Dvořák Hall.

Beethoven’s Ninth features some of the composer’s best-known melodies and is possibly the most-performed symphony in the world. In Japan for example, attending a performance of the symphony is a New Year’s tradition, with dozens of orchestras and choruses performing throughout the country.

The Prague Philharmonic Choir provided the choral part of the symphony.

The Prague Philharmonic Choir provided the choral part of the symphony.

A ‘Tough Nut to Crack’

The risk with such a famous composition is that it loses vitality with repetition. But in the hands of conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, who masterfully led the PKF-Prague Philharmonia without using the score, the symphony — which expresses vicissitudes of joy, tension, and despair — was vibrant and assured. The second movement was particularly affecting, as rests in the melody allowed the silence of the hall to press against the music in a sublime interaction.

Also on the program was Symphony in D Major, Opus 24, by Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek, a Bohemian composer of the early 19th century. Somewhat more conservative than Beethoven’s late work, it is a stately piece of music combining classical and romantic sensibilities.

The title for the evening’s performance, “Beethoven’s Ninth – A (V)oříšek to Crack,” includes a humorous piece of Czech wordplay, as “oříšek” means “nut.” It seems indicative of the good spirits of The Prague Philharmonia as they celebrate their 20th concert season. – oo

– Stephan Delbos, Opus Osm writer

Photo Credits: PKF-Prague Philharmonia

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