Traditional and Modern – Freedom, Equality, Inimitability. This could well have been the motto for the first programme in the three-day residency of Jos van Immerseel's Anima Eterna Brugge at the Beethoven Festival. Instead, “Fourfold Original Sound” was chosen, which for the local relations and despite or precisely because of the new directorship should suggest a certain distinctiveness. With works by Haydn, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Beethoven and Berwald, harmoniously arranged, the evening was able to elucidate similarities through reminiscences of compositional role models and ground-breaking musical expositions.

Anima Eterna Brugge © Alex Vanhee
Anima Eterna Brugge
© Alex Vanhee

 Thus the programme included Haydn's No. 104, the last of his London Symphonies, in which the movements were to an extent already more seriously and more dramatically structured, an approach that his pupil Beethoven was to further develop and rework in his symphonies. Van Immerseel unfolded the powerful opening movement at a somewhat moderate tempo along a microscopic path, with each individual motif of the instruments made transparent. After committed phrasing by the strings and harsh yet roundly accentuated horns and trumpets in the first movement, particularly flutes and oboes, alongside the bassoons complimenting the warmly bawling basses, integrated better into the second movement with regards to articulation, shaping the overall impression with respectively bright or (brilliant!) bagpipe-like tone. A fitting look forward to the finale with Croatian folk melodies sounded at the same time. Here Haydn combines the latest London influences with sounds from home, past and future, notwithstanding the intrinsic wittiness. Jos van Immerseel surprised here with a - for him somewhat unusual - very rapid tempo.

Mendelssohn's Concerto for two pianos and orchestra followed in a similarly expressive and pleasingly rapid style, conveying youthful boldness and playful attacks. Being 14 years old at the time of composition, recourse to Bach was perhaps not yet entirely foreseeable, although early works for solo instrument(s) and the orchestra or a few rapid passages in the composition could indicate this. Rather, the classical piece recalls the examples of Mozart and Beethoven, but in numerous motifs also evokes the concert ideals of Hummel or von Weber.

Claire Chevallier © Koen Broos
Claire Chevallier
© Koen Broos
Claire Chevallier and Jos van Immerseel, sitting back to back at their striking fortepianos in blind understanding, congruently transposed this characteristic with gentle, pearly playing and accentuated staccati. Both soft and erupting transitions succeeded with remarkable perfection. The jovial, occasionally already romantic groundbreaking approach was expressed in the somewhat gentler sound pattern, in which the clarinet was particularly prominent.

This architectonic, tone painting ambivalence was blatantly obvious in the second movement, when Chevallier took the romantic part of triplets and semiquaver passages in the company of the higher strings with warm woodwinds against sonorous basses while van Immerseel had the more dramatic part with classical outbursts. After a garlandlike introduction on the pianos, alternating with the orchestral solo, the Allegro finale was - apart from brief quieter transitions – a showpiece of swift waves across the entire keyboard. The duo mastered this task, too, with joyfulness and routine, in which, apart from the rapid passages, the play could have been somewhat more pointed and the piano passages quieter. Overall, however, soloists and Anima Eterna combined to form a balanced unit, prudently and precisely held together by the leader.

While the orchestra played standing during the first half of the programme, in the second half they took their seats to perform the Overture to the freedom-fighting motif of Egmont, thus ensuring Beethoven’s essential presence in Bonn. The introduction, slow and forceful, eventually moves on to a brief victory symphony, which the ensemble expressed with feisty strings, exulting horns and attacking, triumphant trumpets in a dramatic, dynamic positive overall picture. While the moderate tempo adopted in the Allegro rendered the transition somewhat lacking in contrast, the finale in accelerated Coda was all the more furious.

Jos van Immerseel © Alex Vanhee
Jos van Immerseel
© Alex Vanhee
The Sinfonie singulière by the survivalist Franz Berwald, who was largely neglected during his lifetime, finally revealed the innovations in comparison to the symphonic father figure Beethoven: they are seen in the three-part structure with the Scherzo integrated into the middle movement and the typically northern tone (anticipating Nielsen). Permeated by abruptly alternating motifs flowing into one another, idyllic forms of strings, flutes and oboes (with clear, bright sounds once exchanged) stood opposite interpolations of boisterously sharp brass in the rhythmically difficult opening movement. The generally more mingled structure was conveyed by a denser sound with sharp violins and soothing basses.

After an extremely short fortissimo chord finale, in the second movement reticent violins and violas with tremolo basses under gently grumbling kettledrums revelled in long, sober blue phases; then a single, loud drum beat opened the ornate Scherzo, in which jauntily accentuated basses played with trilling woodwinds. Equally unexpectedly with Berwald the orchestra then returns to peace and quiet with the lengths of the wind and string instruments alongside earthy bassoons. In the finale, van Immerseel created bold confusion in which trombones are on the one hand perceived as disruptive, threateningly stony, yet on the other hand exalted as the upholders of order, ending like a boat trip in the fog in an ominously short conclusion with a simple single-chord climax.

Orchestra and soloists captivated in an antiphonal arrangement (including contrabasses divided to either side) with balanced, firmly stable rhythmics, naturalness and the greatest possible clarity, presenting a surprisingly brilliant opening thanks to mainly fast tempos.

 

Translated from German.

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