A Beethoven overture followed by a Beethoven concerto followed by a Beethoven symphony. It doesn’t get much better than — that unless you factor in solid performances in a lush garden venue on a perfect early summer evening.
The Delaware Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Amado gave a post-season performance in the open-air theatre at Longwood Gardens that continued the orchestra’s year-long exploration of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven.
The opening offering, the Coriolan Overture, was written in 1807 intended for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s tragic play Coriolan, which was about the semi-legendary Roman figure Gaius Marcius Coriolanus. The work loosely follows the course of the play, beginning with some emphatic declamatory chords followed by an anxious scurrying motif. The first part is cast in a minor key depicting a bellicose Coriolanus and his intention to invade Rome. The move to a gentler theme in a major key suggests a softening of his attitude as he yields to his mother’s pleas not to invade the city. He has, however, brought his army to Rome’s gates and cannot turn back, so he kills himself. The performance was as fierce as the music, allowing Amado to demonstrate to perfection his control of the orchestra and its dynamics.
The highlight of the evening was Peter Serkin, one of the great pianists of our time, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It was hard not to feel starstruck by such an accomplished musician, and when he walked onstage with a relaxed smile, he seemed not only confident but relaxed and generous.
This work, which Beethoven wrote before the first piano concerto, features some of the composer’s most famous tunes. Serkin, who is obviously very familiar with this concerto, gave the first movement a delicate and elegant reading. He captured the serenity and spirituality of the second movement with a personal and beautifully touching interpretation. The third movement was all fun as it introduced the theme in an off-beat rhythm. (Later when the theme is played on the beat, it almost sounds wrong.) The tempo was well-judged and the interplay between orchestra and soloist was well-nuanced under Amado’s direction.
After the break, the evening continued with the Symphony No. 4, an Amado favorite but one that continues, unfortunately, to be underrated given its position between the “Eroica” and the ubiquitous Fifth.
The first movement opened with a tension-filled Adagio which gave way to a vigorous Allegro with striking dynamic contrasts, including some mellow sounds from the woodwind section. The Adagio was beautifully sculpted with some very effective soft-playing mid-movement. The finale scampered along with a strength and brio that characterized the entire performance.