Russian conductor Alexander Vikulov continued the Manila Symphony Orchestra’s run of performing the final three symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven by tackling the 8th symphony on a night that took the audience on a classical music throwback of sorts.
The concert also saw the aforementioned Beethoven’s symphony paired with music from the ballet Pulcinella by Igor Stravinsky.
I have to admit that I was thrown off a bit when I realized that the Pulcinella to be performed was not the suite, but the entire ballet complete with the vocal parts. The singers who lent their voices were baritone Noel Azcona, tenor Mark Bautista and soprano Camille Lopez-Molina. I do have to confess that I’ve never given Pulcinella that much attention compared to other Stravinsky ballets like Petrushka, Firebird, and the Rite of Spring. In fact, the concert was the first time I’ve ever heard of the music in its entirety as I’ve only acquainted myself with the suite. On the surface, the music sounded like that of the classical era, but the harmonies bordered on being neoclassical. It’s because the ballet actually featured Stravinsky’s arrangement of 18th century music composed by/attributed to Giovanni Pergolesi and a handful of others.
And it was a moment of discovery for me hearing this piece in an intimate venue such as the Power Mac Center Spotlight. The unique configuration of the orchestra featuring a concertino of strings played by the principals as well as the trio of singers made for a challenging listening experience. I wish that I had chosen a seat farther from the orchestra. A bit of distance could’ve resulted in hearing the sound as a whole rather than feeling as if I were smack in the middle of it. And similar to my experience with other Stravinsky’s ballets, I would’ve been able grasp the music on its own had I’ve seen the ballet either with the original choreography or even if it was just an adaptation.
Before getting into the Beethoven symphony, Vikulov led the MSO with the Overture to Démophon by Luigi Cherubini, a Philippine premiere performance if I’m not mistaken. Again, I have no idea about Cherubini and what his opera is all about but this short piece actually set the tone to the Beethoven symphony that followed it. It must be a time for confessions but I do have to say that I’ve a tendency to overlook Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 with it being sandwiched by the seventh which is my favorite and the ninth which is monumental in scope. I’ve always thought that Beethoven went some steps back for the eighth and purposely made it light and short, harkening back the symphonies of Haydn, as if he already knew how colossal his ninth would be.
With the symphony not possessing any tinge of heaviness, I didn’t mind at all being very close to the orchestra feeling every sudden change of dynamics. And with this piece not really having a slow movement, it drew me more to the orchestra.
Linking the music thematically as the composers’ throwbacks to music from another era was an effective way for me to get into the groove into this concert that featured pieces that I’ve generally overlooked in the past.