There is probably currently no conductor who polarizes as much as Teodor Currentzis. Some consider him a charlatan who dances around in front of the orchestra in an inappropriate manner instead of clearly giving the beat by hand signal. Others perceive his dancing as a deeply emotional manifestation that motivates the orchestra to be fully committed to the task at hand. And then there are the critics who do not like the fact that Teodor Currentzis does not appear before the orchestra in tailcoat, but in fashionably tight trousers and a comfortable coat buttoned at the back. These people also find it inappropriate for a conductor of a classical orchestra that he sometimes uses unconventional language to explain his view of compositions.
The attacks on a personal level are nothing unusual in the age of Twitter and the like: slinging mud anonymously seems to be a basic need in wide circles of human society. It's not funny at all when, as in the case of Currentzis, critics "spice up" reviews of his concerts and recordings. And accusations that this Greek is not a serious conductor are completely beside the point. His position as chief conductor of the SWR Symphony Orchestra, the obvious motivation of the orchestra to be traced in streamable public concerts (www.swr.de/swrclassic/) and, last but not least, the overwhelming public reaction to his sometimes-stunning interpretations of Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich symphonies speak against these accusations.
The fact that not everything Teodor Currentzis tackles turns out to be a top-class musical event is something the 49-year-old conductor shares with famous predecessors, such as Sergiu Celibidache, who was not only the chief conductor of one of the two forerunners of the SWR Symphony Orchestra, but also prorogued criticism of all kinds to a comparable extent as Currentzis because of his personality. An example of a rather sub-optimal interpretation is the current album of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony with the formidable Ensemble Musicaeterna, whose founder and principal conductor is Teodor Currentzis, who for the album of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, together with the same orchestra, delivered a stirringly fresh interpretation.
As usual, the orchestra's performance of Beethoven's seventh symphony is top-notch, and surprising twists and turns in the symphony's musical progression, with unusual accentuations of the string lines, are indicative of the conductor's strong creative will. As might be expected, the dance-like Scherzo keeps to a fast, buoyant tempo without losing momentum, as is not uncommon in the Trio, and the final movement, with its richly colored dynamics, radiates the unbridled energy that, in the case of a live concert, sweeps listeners from their seats. The first two movements of the symphony, however, fall short creatively thanks to the conductor's overly slick and uneventful interpretation. The virtuosity of the orchestra does not counteract this impression. Quite the contrary. Here Carlos Kleiber in his famous, almost historical Viennese recording, but also Manfred Honeck with his Pittsburgh orchestra, to take one of the more recent recordings, are clearly ahead in terms of content.
The fact that Teodor Currentzis did not succeed in a musical flight of fancy with this album, however, does not diminish his conducting abilities per se. Rather, it makes him likeable in that it becomes clear that he succeeds in many things but not everything on an extraordinary level. Behold: even the justly acclaimed Teodor Currentzis is only human.
Teodor Currentzis, conductor