Beethoven Festival: San Antonio
We're all brothers, till the music stops
February 11, 2012
'Alle Menchen werden
brüder," Friedrich Schiller wrote
in his famous "Ode to Joy." All men become
brothers. In the real world, uh, nicht so viel,
as Schiller came to realize. But the aspiration
is worth honoring from time to time, especially
as raised to glorious heights by Beethoven in
his Ninth Symphony.
San Antonio Symphony concluded its cycle of all the
Beethoven symphonies with finely crafted accounts of the
inspiring Ninth and the jolly Eighth for a near-capacity
audience Feb. 10 in the Majestic Theatre. (The repeat on
Feb. 11 was said to be sold out, and the Ninth-only matinee
on Feb. 12 nearly so.)
As in the previous four installments of the cycle, music
director Sebastian Lang-Lessing hewed to tradition and the
composer’s instructions. These performances distinguished
themselves not with willful new ideas but with vividly
rendered details, canny tempo choices and close attention to
articulation and balances. The strings sounded rich but
wonderfully limpid in the Eighth, more substantial in the
Ninth, for which extra desks of first violins, violas and
cellos were deployed.
Mr. Lang-Lessing took fairly relaxed tempos in the first
three movements of the Eighth, then pushed the pedal to the
metal in the manic finale, which fell only a whisker short
of Beethoven’s absurdly fast metronome marking. Mr.
Lang-Lessing pushed the second movement of the Ninth
somewhat faster than the composer demanded, by my reckoning,
but the extra speed was more than justified by the extra
snap in timpanist Peter Flamm’s hard-mallet whip cracks.
The slow movement of the Ninth was superbly made. The string
chordings were radiant, and the conductor’s supple shaping
of the tempo let the music float and billow like a summer
cloud. Katharine Caliendo contributed an excellent horn
The low strings evinced the timing, rhythms and inflections
of a first-rate actor in their series of declamations at the
start of the finale -- a first-rate actor such as the steely
bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, who delivered the invitation
to joyful singing with a cozy gemuetlichkeit that implied
the singing would be accompanied by good working-class beer.
Tenor René Barbera’s youthful, stylish singing was a
pleasure to hear. Soprano Maria Alejandres, remembered for
her splendid Juliet in San Antonio Opera’s production of the
Gounod chestnut last fall, soared ravishingly above the
throng. Mezzo-soprano Luretta Bybee made a fine impression,
to the extent that the score allowed her to be heard.
The Mastersingers chorus, prepared by John Silantien, sang
with confidence, precision and quite good tone.
Oh, and the explosion of cheers that broke out at the end
doubtless would have been a shade less frenzied were it not
for Julie Luker’s spirited work on the piccolo.