Bonn is all about Beethoven. His image is everywhere – on one of the first statues built in Germany for a musician in 1845 in the main Munsterplatz by the cathedral, in the tourist office regalia, in directions to the house where he was born in 1770 (now a museum), in the month-long, annual Beethoven Festival, in the 2,000-seat Beethovenhalle, and, most especially, in the orchestra.

Beethoven Orchestra Bonn © Barbara Aumüller
Beethoven Orchestra Bonn
© Barbara Aumüller

So when it comes to Bonn's Beethoven Orchestra playing the great man's symphonies in the hall named after him, there is a unique pressure and a question. Amid all the promotion of cultural heritage, will today's musicians be up to the task of playing the music itself?

It was thus enjoyable and gratifying to find that the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn led by the Swiss conductor Stefan Blunier took on the First and Fifth Symphonies in fine style on Friday night.

While the Fifth Symphony came last in the programme, it was difficult to keep the other parts of the programme in equal memory. Given the circumstances, you would expect the orchestra to be committed and motivated to play when they have the opportunity. They did not disappoint. A romantic, serious and melodious rendition of the Fifth Symphony was both reassuring and sublime. Reassuring because the musical legacy is in good hands. Sublime because they captured the essence of the music without attempting to add anything extra or new in their interpretation. They had nothing to prove, so we all had a great evening.

The opening notes – be they inspired by a yellowhammer's song in a Vienna park or the idea of fate knocking at a door – were just the launch to a first movement which took off and never dropped in its intensity or melodic measure. This was an experienced, assured, engaged performance by musicians of all ages. Blunier's enthusiasm for the task was evident but you had the feeling that his presence was not the crucial element. This was a classic performance in the great tradition of German orchestras: the horns knew when to be heard, the winds knew when to be soft. The strings were exceptional.

While Bonn claims Beethoven as its greatest son, Ludwig actually left his hometown when he was 22 years old to make his fame alongside Haydn and Mozart in Vienna. He wrote the Fifth Symphony between 1804 and 1808, and conducted the première of it and his Sixth Symphony in a massive, four-hour concert on 22 December 1808 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. It included Beethoven playing his Fourth Piano Concerto himself.

Friday's concert programme started with the First Symphony, which was a good opportunity to measure how far Beethoven had moved musically, from the point when he started to sketch this symphony in his late teens, to the première in Vienna in April 1800 and his later work. That concert programme in 1800 included his Second Piano Concerto, a symphony by Mozart and an aria and a duet from Haydn's oratorio The Creation. The 25-minute symphony in four movements is, by Beethoven's later standards, an ordinary work which served its purpose well. It was an introduction to what was to follow. The Beethoven Orchestra was moderate in its interpretation and, given they too knew what was to come, that was probably the best way to proceed.

Before the interval, Albrecht Mayer, principal oboist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, played Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's Concertino for English horn, strings and two horns. The Venetian composer's 1947 work is not often given stage space and Mayer's lively performance was greeted warmly by the appreciative audience. Of his two encores, Mayer's pleasant rendition with delicate string accompaniment of Handel's theme from the aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" was proof of his ability to bring the most out of his chosen instrument.

But if truth be told, the musical heart of the evening was always going to be Beethoven's Fifth. It is such a majestic, universal composition which transcends its 30 minutes in time and space every time it is performed. Happily the concert was recorded and will take its place, on merit, in the archives which allow Beethoven's music to live on.

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