The opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is iconic: everyone knows those four hammering notes. Under the direction of Thomas Hengelbrock, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra juxtaposes Beethoven’s equally popular and revolutionary symphony with his Egmont Overture. The orchestra’s principal cellist Gregor Horsch shines in Lutosławski’s spectacular cello concerto.
Beethoven once described the opening theme of his Fifth Symphony as ‘Fate knocking at the door’. In any event, that’s how the story goes. Yet even without that prior knowledge, it’s still very gripping music. The work was so unusual at the time Beethoven wrote it that subsequent orchestral composers ignored it at their peril. The symphony lives on – even in pop music – like the perpetual rumbling of an earthquake. The conductor Thomas Hengelbrock is certainly the right person to lay bare the dramatic intensity of Beethoven’s symphony.
The Lutosławski cello concerto offers more drama, but of a more recent date: this is music that inevitably makes an indelible impression on all audiences. Solo concertos are usually a playful dialogue between soloist and orchestra, but Lutosławski turns his into a fierce power struggle. This is how the music of a Pole sounds who refused to be muzzled by the Soviet dictatorship in the 1960s. It’s an exciting work both to hear and to see.