Review: Beethoven to Brahms
The Florida Blue Classical Series presented “Beethoven to Brahms” this weekend, a program consisting of two well-loved Germanic masterpieces led by Guest Conductor Markus Stenz.
Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 3”
The program opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 3,” which was rendered with lyricism and zest. From the very opening bars it was clear that Mr. Stenz had a superlative ability to communicate with the orchestra. He brought out levels of rhythmic precision, dynamic subtlety, expressive range, and overall cohesion that were some of the most impressive I’ve yet heard from the Jacksonville Symphony. A highlight for the audience was the placement of a trumpet in the top balcony of the hall to play some of the fanfare passages in antiphonal fashion with the orchestra.
Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1”
The second selection on the program was the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68, of Johannes Brahms. After some inspiring opening remarks by Mr. Stenz, the first movement began, with the handling of the slow introduction already proving that the dynamic subtleties we heard in the Beethoven would continue here. Mr. Stenz was obviously on familiar terms with each and every bar of this piece, and this deep knowledge was clear to all throughout the performance. I repeatedly found myself picking up on details in this score I had not noticed before. The performance was remarkable above all for its attention to melody, which is so very central to the essence of Brahms. Melodic lines were always given prominence whether they involved the entire orchestra, sections of the orchestra, or solo instruments. In the second movement in particular there were some wonderful solo lines from the woodwinds. Of special note to me was a moment when the oboe passed off a solo line seamlessly to the clarinet, with perfect continuity of phrasing.
Mr. Stenz possesses a rather unorthodox but highly effective conducting style. Leading the orchestra entirely from memory and not using a baton, he largely eschewed traditional beat patterns in favor of a more abstract approach that adhered to the contours of the musical lines. He was able to forge a direct and unencumbered connection with the musicians who clearly responded to it with focus and commitment, producing performances of these well-trod masterpieces that were fresh and refined. “Beethoven to Brahms” is a refreshing showcase of beloved standards with an inspiring guest artist of the highest quality, making for a not to be missed evening with the Jacksonville Symphony.
Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as classical music reviewer.
Watch and Listen
If this type of fresh and refined programming interests you, please visit our 21/22 season page to find upcoming Florida Blue Classical Series performances. Additional content for this performance includes an interview with Guest Conductor, Markus Stenz, which can be found on the Jacksonville Symphony YouTube channel.
The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Florida Blue for sponsoring the Classical Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Beethoven to Brahms.