Rebellious Beethoven from Nicola Benedetti, Marin Alsop and the OAE
It was Robert Schumann who called Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants”. Nestling between the revolutionary Eroica and the Fifth’s hammer blows of Fate, the sunny Fourth is no shrinking violet, a little minx brimming with Haydnesque wit. In this very fine concert given by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Marin Alsop, she stood alongside another giant, the Violin Concerto in D major that Beethoven composed the same year.
“Perfection is overrated!” joked Alsop at the pre-concert talk and there was certainly some hesitant intonation in the gentle introduction to the Fourth. Things soon settled as the Allegro vivace section of the first movement burst into life. Alsop bustled and prodded, a hive of nervous energy on the podium, driving the drama tautly. Woodwind colour included some occasionally acidic clarinet tone. Alsop drew plenty of nuance in the Adagio, while the Scherzo poked in the ribs before pulling back to a genial pace for the Trio section. The Fourth is at its most rebellious in the finale and the OAE didn’t disappoint, bows clattering percussively, bassoon jabbering raucously, while timpani and brass underlined the punchlines in red.
Alsop is a regular OAE collaborator and a familiar figure in front of many British orchestras, relationships marked by the presentation of the Association of British Orchestras award before the concert’s second half.