Like popping endless bottles of Bollinger and tins of crème fraîche & Beluga spooned with mother of pearl antique spoons onto buttery blinis, the New Year in Milan traditionally brings Concerto di Capodanno, where on December 31st, OC annually rings in the approaching year with a live performance of Beethoven's Ninth. OC's already strapped-on 5 pairs of towering stilettos (at times, in snow) yearly to celebrate at Milan's Auditorium di Milan with her homebeezy Ludwig Van. This year being no exception, OC found herself in Auditorium's plush velvet seats for Wayne Marshall's sold-out Beethoven Ninth, Gucci black platform suede wedges, Alexander Wang black satin mini-dress, J Brand The Deal leggings, vintage '80s Tiffany & Co. bracelets from OC's mom & her favorite vintage Cartier, and a black Burberry trench all kept OC toasty in the cold mist that blanketed the city last night.
Oc's heard it all, every year an almost predictable reading of Beethoven's cultish 9th: 2005 brought us Herbie Blomstedt's adept & solid performance; in 2006 we heard Leonard Slatkin's sloppy mess; in 2007 the American maestro returned for a more careful read; and last year we heard Leopold Hager (filling-in last minute for an ill Vladimir Fedoseev), who dazzled us with Beethoven's Fantasia in C minor but fell short with the Ninth.
This year, British maestro Wayne Marshall took control of Orchestra Sinfonica and Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, and although we can't say it was particularly good, it was a fresh & witty & superfast reading of Beethoven's powerful symphony.
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Marshall stripped away all the crystalline terror, longing, and raw power of Schiller's "An Freude" and kept the skeleton of the work intact. A condensed reading of Beethoven, Marshall's Beethoven-lite was like the Cliffs Notes version of the masterpiece lovingly caressed by Furtwaengler, Solti, Karajan, and all those dead maestri we've known & loved. Breakneck and ruthless in an almost unfinished version, clocking in at a cool 60 minutes, it was marked with erratic pauses that culminated into glazed-over transitions. Unpredictable and quicksilver, the speed and volume of the lean, lean strings was an ersatz interpretation of joy. In a year of crisis, Marshall stripped the work of schmaltz, romanticism and refused to dwell on pathos. Which frankly, was refreshing.
One can't build a career out of being unpredictable, but as Beethoven 9th fetishists who've heard it all, we liked Marshall's feverish vision. The maestro, principal guest conductor of Orchestra Verdi, found a strong, enduring pulse that kept the work alive, and an overall chirpy, upbeat staccato that floated the strings, pushing the work to its final movement culmination, "O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!".
Soprano Helena Juntunen, a singer we might go gay for, was our feisty little buttercup in a long yellow dress. She insouciantly launched into Schiller's poem, effortless and bubbly. The other three soloists -- mezzosoprano Maria Josè Montiel, tenor Kornelius Jan Dusseljee & bass Stephen Gadd -- melded fabulously, being some of the strongest soloists we've heard at Auditorium through all five Concerti di Capodanno.
Erina Gambarini, chorus "mistress" (as coined by Wayne Marshall during the small speech he delivered before the final bis) of Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi enjoyed her performance with la Verdi, and one of the last with the first violinist, who is moving onto greener pastures in the new decade.
No one knows what next year's Concerto di Capodanno will bring, but it's time to get back to tradition after Marshall's insanely rouge reading. Back in the saddle, riding off into the NYE sunset.