Editor: Marc Bridle


Webmaster: Len Mullenger





WWW MusicWeb

Search Music Web with FreeFind

Any Review or Article



Seen and Heard Concert Review



Bartók: Four Orchestral Pieces, Op 12; Piano Concerto No. 1; Concerto for Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, piano, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 4 April 2005 (TJH)


"In this hall," Pierre Boulez said, referring to the Royal Festival Hall in a little speech before his concert there on Monday, "I have hurt many beautiful concerts." Self-deprecation never having been one of Boulez’s strong points, one might be inclined to attribute such a statement to his French-tinged accent, but I prefer to imagine that, at 80, Boulez is finally willing to admit some small measure of fallibility. And as if to prove the point, he went on to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through an all-Bartók programme that, for all its superficial loveliness, was fundamentally flawed in its approach.


Things started promisingly enough with an account of the Four Pieces, Op. 12. Though not often heard in concert – perhaps due to the outsized orchestra Bartók calls for – they have become something of a staple for Boulez, whose conducting on Monday was infused with authority and understanding. The delicate orchestration swaddling the first and third pieces was clear and well-balanced, the Debussy-like harmonies dripping with sevenths and ninths. The fourth piece, a marcia funebre, recalled the first movement of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony both in its rhythmic motto and its faintly ironic disposition; Boulez’s conducting here was thrillingly immediate, with the CSO’s crisp playing underlined by the RFH’s dry acoustic. It was only the Scherzo that was disappointing: in his quest for smooth edges and polished textures, Boulez totally negated the barbaric force which Bartók surely intended.


That same refined gentility rendered the ensuing First Piano Concerto largely impotent too, invigorated though it was by Daniel Barenboim’s virile pianism. Barenboim, whose conducting of Mahler the night before had felt so contrived and unidiomatic, had great charisma and spontaneity at the keyboard, his commanding presence tempered by a spirit of supreme generosity. This last quality was most evident in the nocturnal Andante, where he became accompanist to a procession of eerie woodwind solos before engaging in a ritualistic dialogue with the CSO’s capable team of percussionists. Here, Boulez too was in his element, drawing parallels not only with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring but with his own pulsating Rituel of 1975; for the first time, it was clear just what in Bartók’s music Boulez responded to.


What he clearly did not respond to was the coarse, folk-inspired earthiness at the heart of Bartók’s output. His seeming unwillingness to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty in the acerbic, spiky rhythms of the outer movements left them feeling soggy and lacking in character. After the interval, the Concerto for Orchestra was also squeaky clean, with an impressive transparency to its rich orchestral fabric – but surely such an approach misses the point. Despite the CSO’s fresh and articulate playing, particularly in the second movement’s ‘game of the couples’, there was a distinct lack of zest to the whole affair. Boulez had it all wrong: it was beauty that ultimately hurt this concert.


Tristan Jakob-Hoff

Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page





Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)