On the occasion of Beethoven's 250th birthday, Switzerland's oldest orchestra, the Musikkollegium Winterthur conducted by Gábor Takács-Nagy, performed Beethoven of energy and optimism with such sweep and glory that the finale of the Second Symphony might have been toasted, had there been an audience, with the Kölsch beers Beethoven loved best.

Gábor Takács-Nagy © Musikkollegium Winterthur
Gábor Takács-Nagy
© Musikkollegium Winterthur

It was an eloquent performance of the Triple Concerto that held center stage. Takács-Nagy was totally in command of the structure and movement, giving the music the attention it deserves from the podium and yet so rarely gets. He led the orchestra in one long breath to the cello's opening solo in the first movement with such planning and pace that the two bars of the first violin tapping away on middle C made all the sense in the world. The way he and the orchestra gave just the right snap to the Più allegro at the movement's end was also notable as well as the way the orchestra played the great succession of melodies in the opening tutti. Speeds overall were moderate so that the solo trio, members of the TrioVanBeethoven, could play their three contrasting roles with freedom and dignity.

Verena Stourzh played her violin solos with soaring virtuosity, willing to bill and coo with the cello in the lyrical passages, to mix it up in the antics of the Polacca, and to set a pace in the 2/4 Allegro episode that the cellist Franz Ortner, who was heroically golden in his first and second entries in the first movement and in the long lyrical line in the Largo, could match. He insisted on the usual rasping, thoroughly unauthentic prelude to the Polacca but, once launched, he flourished a considerable technique and made it relatively unscathed to the end with exhilarating moments throughout. Pianist Clemens Zeilinger seemed content with adopting a dispassionate attitude, accepting his role as a junior partner, but in the process of exploring inner lines he occasionally illuminated something cool.

The Second Symphony after intermission was similarly powerful and grand as befitted Beethoven's take on the Classical symphony. And although it was thoroughly 21st-century romantic Beethoven in terms of tone, timbre and dynamics, it was thoroughly authentic in the one thing that mattered most, that for music written in the midst of his Heiligenstadt torment, this old Swiss orchestra played Beethoven's symphony as if it were a symphony of life.

This performance was reviewed from the Musikkollegium Winterthur live video stream