Review in The Intelligencer Journal, The Lancaster New Era
A joy-filled fantasy (fragment)
Nov 15, 2009
By John Jascoll, Sunday News Correspondent
The 131-voice chorus was seated, apparently immovably wedged in place, but there wasn't an instrumentalist in sight save for our unassuming Russian-born soloist, Pavel Nersessian, at the Steinway. He proceeded to give us a musical delight that was not on the program: a divine performance of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, played in its entirety with a subdued and particularly captivating first movement.
The sonata was really an encore in advance because nothing could have followed what came next, the climax of the evening, Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy." When it comes to labeling the piece, it's an enigma. Were we listening to a piano solo, or a piano concerto or a choral work? It's actually all three, opening with a lengthy, thoughtful ramble on the piano that, we're told, Beethoven improvised as he played it at the work's premiere in 1808. Then one instrument after another takes up the theme, bouncing it through a seemingly endless series of variations before the entire orchestra comes into play.
We had a feeling something special was in store, and sure enough the "Ode to Joy" theme that Beethoven would use in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony triumphantly burst forth. The singers then elbowed each other to their feet, and the "Choral Fantasy" came into being.
It's a wonderfully happy, uplifting work. Solo vocalists and chorus celebrate how the joyful harmony of love and peace brings forth "flowers that bloom forever," while harshness and hostility are vanquished by delight. Listening to the vast chorus accompanied by the orchestra and led by Nersessian at the piano was a glorious experience. You just wanted it to go on forever.