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REVIEW: Handel + Haydn present birthday concert for Beethoven

A quiet chatter filled the First Church Cambridge as attendees arrived and took their seats. Amid the soft hum, one could hear the sweet warm-up notes from an oboe echoing through the openness like a faint whisper from beyond.

Fortepiano virtuoso Kristian Bezuidenhout performs with musicians from the Handel + Haydn Society Orchestra at the Beethoven Birthday Concert held at First Church Cambridge Saturday. COURTESY CHRIS PETRE-BAUME

All in attendance at the First Church on Saturday were there not for a religious service, but for a celebration. A birthday celebration, to be exact.

The Beethoven Birthday Celebration concert was hosted by the Handel + Haydn Society to celebrate what would have been the 250th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven. All of the elements of the concert worked together cohesively to create a celebration fit for one of history’s most famous composers.

The choice in venue for the concert played a role in what made the celebration so successful. Rather than being held in a large concert hall, the event was held in the First Church, which gave it a more intimate feeling.

This was an appropriate fit for the concert, which featured all chamber groups, small ensembles comprised of only a handful of musicians, with the largest ensemble consisting of five performers. Large concert halls are equipped to host large orchestras. Had this concert been held in a large concert hall, it is possible the sound would have been swallowed up by the space.

The church made it feel like a quiet party with close friends, whereas a large hall would have made it instead feel like a gala, attended by anyone who’s anyone. The intimate setting made the atmosphere feel nothing short of special.

The selected pieces differed from each other in terms of instrumentation and feel, which allowed the audience to have a diverse listening experience.

The performance opened with “Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, Op. 16” featured piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. This piece found a way for all five voices to work together while also allowing each voice the opportunity to speak on its own.

The quintet opened with all five parts working in unison, allowing the audience to hear a balanced, blended sound at the beginning of the piece. From there, the individual instruments begin to take their turn in the spotlight.

Clarinet was the first instrument to be featured individually, and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich took advantage of this opportunity in full. Hoeprich performed with a gentle and smooth sound that fit the feeling of the piece flawlessly. As a result, this set the tone for the rest of the piece.

The second movement of the performance focused on piano only with “Rondo in C Major, Op. 51. No. 1” and “Rondo in G Major, Op. 51, No. 2.” These two pieces allowed Kristian Bezuidenhout, the pianist featured in every piece during the birthday celebration concert, to showcase his talents on his own.

Bezuidenhout played the two pieces beautifully. Even a listener who is less than an expert in classical music can tell that the two pieces are difficult to play. This is made clear through the frequent appearance of intricate, layered, fast-moving rhythms.

Beziudenhout handles the difficult pieces with ease, so much so that the performance sounded effortless and nearly perfect to the listener.

The final piece of the concert was “Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 3,” which featured four movements and an instrumentation of violin, cello and piano.

This piece brought the concert to a close in an excellent way, as it was arguably the best piece of the performance. The varied voices of the violin, cello and piano all complement each other perfectly. The range that the piano is able to cover makes it the perfect mediator to marry the high voice of the violin and the low voice of the cello.

On top of the beautiful orchestration of the piece, the performers made the piece fun to watch. This piece was performed by Beziundenhout on piano, Aisslinn Nosky on violin and Guy Fishman on cello.

Nosky and Fishman performed with a visible passion that made an already interesting and pleasant piece even more engaging for audience members. It is nearly impossible to not be fully enthralled when watching Nosky and Fishman perform.

Overall, the Beethoven Birthday Celebration did an outstanding job providing an evening of music perfectly fit to honor an amazing and beloved composer.

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