Beethoven: The Symphonies proved just that four times over.' />
Symphony orchestra’s rendition of masterpieces draws capacity audiences.

Beethoven, as everyone knows, sells seats. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Beethoven: The Symphonies proved just that four times over, drawing capacity audiences eager to experience nine works that irrevocably changed musical history.

Thursday's opening night clashed with the launch of La Traviata, and I suspect I was not alone in catching Radio New Zealand Concert's Wellington broadcast a week earlier. Even on air, it was a revelation, setting out an almost narrative progression through Beethoven's first three symphonies.

Conductor Pietari Inkinen stressed a Haydn connection in the First Symphony, with lean humour rather than casual grace.

After the interval, his infinitesimal care with the great Eroica, sometimes phrase by phrase, made the mighty first movement sing anew.


On Friday, one knew that Inkinen's Fifth would be momentous. The audience, already almost rowdy in its appreciation, wolf-whistled the conductor before a note was played.

The drive of his first movement stopped short of the easy primal. Shapely phrasing and moments of dance-like buoyancy led naturally to a lilting Andante con moto.

Saturday's Pastoral Symphony was another opportunity to appreciate Inkinen's attention to detail. In the second movement, Beethoven's brook was clear enough to pass the most rigorous ecological testing.

The mesmerising first movement of the Seventh Symphony brought forth spontaneous applause, rewarded by a tenaciously argued Allegretto.

Sunday's Grand Finale opened with the Eighth Symphony, generally considered a lighter work in the canon. The stylish Inkinen did not limit humour to the ticking metronome of its second movement, and the Finale, with its rushing triplets, was transformed into ferocious tarantella.

The Choral Symphony proved a magnificent signing-off. The first movement was as close to sonic sculpture as symphony; a demonic scherzo had Inkinen giving almost terrifying licence to the timpani, while the Adagio opted for Mahlerian serenity.

The Finale, with solid singing from soloists and Auckland Choral, brought out the stirring spirit we now associate with the fall of Berlin's wall of oppression. The sight of Inkinen, punching out Beethoven's reiterated shouts of D major freedom, will be with me forever.

Who: The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
What: Beethoven: The Symphonies
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Friday-Sunday