Review: Nine Beethoven symphonies on period instruments, with John Eliot Gardiner

Posted on: February 28, 2020

“In a concert season brimming with Beethoven favorites and rarities to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, one presentation encompasses both categories: a Beethoven symphony cycle on period instruments,” writes Barbara Jepson in Wednesday’s (2/26) Wall Street Journal (subscription required). “Performed in chronological order by the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique under John Eliot Gardiner at Carnegie Hall … the five … concerts were notable for their visceral excitement and unusual features. To emphasize Beethoven’s embrace of the ideals of the French Revolution, Mr. Gardiner had orchestra members briefly sing while playing a passage from the final Allegro of the composer’s Fifth Symphony…. Six of the works were performed with the violins and violas standing. More familiar was the sheer aural appeal of the original or reproduction instruments themselves: gut strings, sweeter overall than their modern counterparts, with double basses as smooth as velvet; mellow wood flutes and golden-hued trumpets…. The final program ended with an electrifying performance of the Ninth Symphony featuring the superb Monteverdi Choir…. Many conductors have captured the exuberant bonhomie of the ‘Ode to Joy’ section, but Mr. Gardiner also imparted its spiritual heart.”