For those that thought the mystery cult of the conductor was dead, meet Theodor Currentzis. In a society in which professional performances and recordings are churned out with minimal rehearsal, Currentzis insists on deep-clean rehearsal experiences. Yet that micro-managing results in elecrifying performances.
Those of us lucky enough to have experienced the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, Günter Wand, Sir Reginald Goodall, Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink and the like have long bemoaned the lack of true charisma and musical genius around today. So to have a conductor who has a Carlos Kleiber-like insistence on perfection coupled with the intensity of a Bernstein is refreshing in the extreme.
A tiny bit of history: born in Athens in 1972 (and therefore not yet 50, so a baby in conducting terms), Currentzis studied with the world-renowned Ilya Musin in St Petersburg; Musin, incidentally, also taught Semyon Bychkov. While in Novosibirsk (Siberia), Currentzis founded his own orchestra, the one featured on thsi recording, MusicaAeterna.
For someone known for the high-tensile ferocity of his readings, for the intensity of his conducting (try the Verdi Requiem below), it may come as some surprise to learn that his first recording, in 2011, was Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (he's also recorded that composer's Indian Queen on DVD, directed by Peter Sellars), but one should not forget that his Mozart opera recordings - like this Beethoven, issued on Sony - are already classics. Here's the barn-storming "Dies Irae" from the Verdi Requiem:
The Beethoven Fifth released here is as unique as it is compelling. Fresh, full of impetus, everything crystal clear. There is no coupling, and it could be argued there is no need for one. Currenzis' orchestra, MusicAeterna, gives its all, bending perfectly to his will (be warned: there are a couple of controversial dynamic hairpins in there). The point is that, for those who thought they knew Beethoven 5, Currentzis offers a necessary corrective; for those coming to it for the first time, how lucky they are. In the lockdown Beethoven year of 2020, this is as vital as it gets. There will always be music. There will always be Beethoven. And, when it comes to those on the World conducting stage right now, Currentzis offers hope.
Here, then, is the complete first movement of Beethoven Fifth, Fate knocking at our collective door unforgettably:
Currentzis sees the music through fresh eyes. Breathless, urgent, the music surges forward; even the lyricism of the second movement is informed by it. By the time Currentzis has taken us through the third movement - we really do hear through fresh ears - the power of the finale becomes monumental. His own essay on the piece speaks of peeling off the layers of previous interpretations (both musical and poetic: the idea of "Fate knocking at the door") to experience the music afresh.
And how we do.
(Photo of Currentzis credit Julia Wesely)