By Lawrence Budmen

The Concert Association concluded its season on Saturday evening with  the Dresden Staatskapelle, one of the world’s oldest orchestras,  playing two of the monuments of Western culture – the Third and Sixth  Symphonies of Beethoven. The Staatskapelle has played continuously for  over four and a half centuries. The orchestra was a favorite of Richard  Strauss who premiered many of his scores with the Dresden ensemble.  Under the dynamic baton of Myung Whun Chung the venerable ensemble  delivered lithe, invigorating performances that brought new life to  familiar music.

The Symphony No.6 (Pastoral) is as close as Beethoven came to writing  program music. This bucolic work paints a sound picture of country life  and nature. Chung set crisp, lively tempos in the symphony’s opening  movement. The entire performance was enhanced by the orchestra’s warm, Central European string sound and mellow brass and winds. The lyrical flow of the Andante was almost operatic. Chung brought rustic energy to the country dance and made the thunderstorm fiercely powerful. The calm eloquence of the concluding Hymn of Thanksgiving after the Storm was magical in its sheer beauty. The Chung-Staatskapelle performance combined the taut vigor of Toscanini with the mellifluous sound of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 (Eroica) is one of the composer’s most boldly original statements. By introducing bracing dissonance and breaking the classical rules of formal symphonic structure Beethoven changed music forever. The strong forward thrust and momentum that Chung brought to the opening Allegro set the pace for a striking performance. The conductor gave due gravity to the funeral march but the musical momentum never flagged. The accuracy and precision of the horn quartet in the Scherzo was remarkable, particularly at Chung’s headlong pace.  The concluding theme and variations was masterfully shaped by Chung who exhibited a keen sense of dynamic contrast. The glowing sweetness of the wind playing was a joy to hear. For once the final coda was not an anticlimax but a true apotheosis of divine musical creation. The great Dresden ensemble and its gifted conductor offered inspired music making that produced an ecstatic response from a large audience.

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