On Dec. 16, 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany. The rest, as they say, is history. Once Beethoven hit his composing stride, he changed the world with his pace. Whether during his lifetime or for the current concert season, it's impossible to think of a time when Beethoven's music didn't enjoy the highest respect.
So the Palm Beach Symphony accomplished two goals in its concert Tuesday at The Society for the Four Arts: It celebrated Beethoven's 238th birthday, while opening its 35th season.
Music Director Ray Robinson hosted a hearty party, mixing Beethoven's ever-popular Pastorale Symphony (No. 6) as centerpiece, with less-often performed works from the composer's overture and concerto genres. The guest ensemble, the admirable young Goldstein-Kaler-Peled Trio, charged into the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano (Triple Concerto) with unusual fervor and bite.
The Four Arts was packed to the gills: onstage and in the hall. Although the Palm Beach Symphony is a classical-size orchestra, the Gubelmann Auditorium stage can be a challenge for anything larger than a chamber group. To accommodate the guest trio, the symphony seemed to pare down even more and moved to the rear. The most noticeable effect was the loss at times of much of the orchestral sound.
On the other hand, the three guest soloists had an exceptional amount of presence. There was no phoning this one in, nothing vague or ephemeral, just great solid Beethoven. Especially the strings — cellist Amit Peled and violinist Ilya Kaler — reached out and grabbed the listener.
From its all-out push in the concerto's dynamic first movement, the trio put just as much passion in the slow second movement. Peled especially touched every nerve. He beautifully shaped the melodies while still allowing them their gentle simplicity. It was as appealing as his performance last season as soloist with the Boca Raton Symphonia.
And what a delight to hear the finale approached with good-humored playfulness. At times, the laughs turned heavy handed, even labored. It didn't help that the orchestra's rhythmic sync could have been much tighter. But pianist Alon Goldstein's crisp, impish exclamation points always captured just the right lilt and personality.
Earlier, a slow tempo robbed Beethoven's Coriolan Overture of its dramatic sense of flight. The orchestra played very well, but the overall effect was stodgy. Compared to the wooden Coriolan, the Pastorale Symphony was lyrical and focused, the pace upbeat, and some excellent French horn work could be heard.
If anything, the program needed a bit more contrast. With all three major works composed within five years of each other (1803-1808), the same general sound and feel prevailed all evening. One major break was the encore by the solo trio, a work from its all-Beethoven program on Sunday
afternoon at the Four Arts: the slow movement of the Piano Trio, Op. 11. Full of great nuances and lyrical lines, it was a birthday tribute to Peled's father.