My college music teacher said the mark of a masterpiece is that we discover something new every time we encounter it. And what I discovered Friday night is how much Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has echoes of the previous eight.
I heard the noble, striding surge of his Fifth Symphony in the opening movement, the galloping rhythms of the seventh in the next section, the relaxed mellowness of the sixth in the dreamy adagio. (We seldom call Beethoven dreamy, but he can be.) Merry humor, inner turmoil, a call to our better natures – all of those are here. Music director Christopher Warren-Green gave them to us in a performance that changed moods many times before settling on a kind of holy frenzy in the “Ode to Joy.”
He started with a lean, vigorous attack, charging into the piece as revisionist conductors have tended to do over the past 30 years. The second movement had a jubilant spirit but felt less fleet, and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra responded to him: Previously insecure horns settled down; winds and strings sounded buoyant.
The adagio molto e cantabile – “very slow and songful” – was a total change of pace, so laid-back that it cast a pastoral spell as long as it cohered. (It didn’t, always.) Like a man reluctant to leave a country lane for urban bustle, Warren-Green began the last movement by alternating fervor with slower interludes. The “Ode to Joy” theme appeared among lower strings as the faintest rumor of a melody, a spark of inspiration that built to a towering blaze.
Bass Dashon Burton, who stood out for his diction and intense delivery, sang the opening to this segment as a call to arms, urging spiritual brothers to march alongside him. (Tenor Christopher Pfund later shared this mood.) Warren-Green drove the soloists and the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte (who produced especially fine soft singing) forward with such zest that the Ode acquired a kind of wild religious ecstasy.
Friedrich Schiller’s poem ends with the words “Do you sense your Creator, world? Seek him above in the tent of stars! Above the stars he must dwell.” If the 200 people onstage at Belk Theater were headed for heaven, they clearly meant to ascend on a rocket.