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S & H Prom Review

PROM 44: Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven Askar, Wosner, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (piano/director). RAH, Friday, August 22nd, 2003 (CC)


Barenboim is an infrequent visitor to the UK, so any opportunity to see this ex-Wunderkind is to be grasped. Evidently I was not the only one to think so, for the auditorium was stuffed to the rafters and the queue for returns eminently healthy.

The orchestra also excited curiosity: the strangely named West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, formed in 1999 and Barenboim’s ‘baby’. Comprising 80 young musicians originating from diverse Middle Eastern, Israeli and Andalucian backgrounds (it is a youth orchestra), this year’s Summer course was held in Seville (hence the second encore, a sparking account of Rossini’s Barber: Schubert provided the first).

Originally, the programme was to be short (merely the Mozart and Beethoven). Then, Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ was added and all of a sudden value-for-money was the order of the day. Interpretatively, this was convincing Schubert of the old school. The opening statement carried with it an ominous swell; structural build-ups were in the Furtwängler mould (the opening of the development was pregnant with expectancy); trombones were almost ceremonial (recalling Mozart’s more overtly Freemasonic moments). Fortes in the second movement were big-boned, the sense of drama palpable. Only some rough edges regarding ensemble acted as a reminder of the youth of the players, but it was a highly enjoyable performance. Typical of the Prommers that applause after the final chord was immediate, though. Do they have no soul?

There followed a rare opportunity to hear Mozart’s Concerto in F for Three Pianos and Orchestra, K242 (1776). Of the three parts, one was written for a pianist of modest means (Josepha, daughter of Countess Antonia Maria Lodron), and it was this part Barenboim took, leaving him free to direct most of the time. A shame for those who came along to hear Barenboim the pianist. If the Allegro was not very allegro, there was evident affection for this rarely-heard piece (rightly so). It did look strange, having three whopping great Steinways for this most delicate of music, but the rapport between players was a consistent delight. If I had to state a preference, it would be for Saleem Abboud Ashkar (first piano), whose assurance shone through his playing (Shai Wosner was a little more restrained). If some of the detail was lost in the Albert Hallian wash, the Adagio (one of the most civilised pieces of music ever written) was sheer pleasure. Interchanges between soloists were managed in the most delightful of fashions. A true success.

Barenboim’s fifty-minute Eroica was a big interpretation. The opening tutti tonic chords were sledgehammers in sound. The old-school approach led to a wonderful intensification of tension in the development, its solid determination leading inexorably towards the crushing climactic dissonances. The Funeral March was characterised by richly Romantic string sonorities (tempo-wise, it did flow though). Antiphonal string displacement worked well, as did Barenboim’s proclivity for dynamic extremes: Beethoven the reactionary shone through. The Scherzo and Trio was a triumph: this music suits youth perfectly, and the horns were, indeed, straight from the chase. Barenboim’s far-sighted way with the Finale generated a fair head of momentum, leading to grand, heroic horns at its culmination.

The enthusiastic reception was well deserved. The rough edges of the Schubert were all but ironed out in the Beethoven, although it is perhaps for the rare Mozart that this concert will remain in the memory.

Colin Clarke



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