If Andris Nelsons hadn’t tipped Laurence Jackson the wink to lead the massed CBSO forces offstage after five minutes of applause I think we’d still be on our feet (yes, me too) roaring approval even now.
This concluding concert in the CBSO’s complete Beethoven symphony cycle combined Beethoven’s “little favourite” (no. 8) with the biggie Ninth, and it was instructive to witness how Andris Nelsons’ body-language differed in his interpretation of the two works.
The Eighth takes no prisoners in its no-nonsense approach. If Beethoven wants to change key, he does so, just like that, with no tactful, urbane modulations, and Nelsons revelled in this naughty-boy cock-snooking. If Beethoven wants extremes of dynamics, Nelsons responded with gusto — the beginning of the first movement’s recapitulation, Beethoven demanding a rare triple-forte decibel-level, was electrifying.
So, no place for relaxation in this terse piece, though Nelsons did succeed in making the third movement’s Trio section sound like an elegant little Viennese coffee-house orchestra, Jesper Svedberg’s busy cello solo outstanding.
Things were totally different in the Ninth, a granite-featured Nelsons taking a patient long view as he gradually welded the music’s abrupt, elemental gestures into a cosmic expression of unified design.
Unison lies at the heart of this music, whether technically, emotionally or politically. For all his bluff exterior, Andris Nelsons is a profoundly spiritual man, and all the incidents of this many-sided work — the first movement’s trembling void, the thunderbolting scherzo, the visionary longed-for balm of the adagio, the revolutionary aspiration of the famous finale — were all grasped in turn as his conception moved towards its glorious realisation, a unison, once of terror, now of triumph, hurled towards the listener.
In the vocal finale the quartet of soloists were properly operatic, and the CBSO Chorus gripped this audience with their amazing diction (how significant the words “Bruder” and “Welt”) and projection, and all from memory. Never mind that they looked as though they were standing behind crush-barriers on football terraces; their sound was as glorious as we have long known it to be, and which stunned this audience which had thought it knew all that needed to be said about Beethoven.
And so everyone packed up, moving on for tonight’s performance at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris (“Our fifth visit in three-and-a-half years, almost our second home,” remarked CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock).
Rambo and his crew were immediately on the road, Paris-bound, with heavy instruments and stands, and we were left with renewed and remarkable insights into the symphonic miracle which is Beethoven after hearing these masterpieces in such close sequence.
And left, too, with a renewed awareness of the extraordinary bond between the unique Andris Nelsons and his superlative CBSO. And how the name of Birmingham has come to mean so much in Beethoven’s Germany.