Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Maxim Vengerov (vln), Chicago
Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim
Arthaus Musik (Region
0), Cat. No 100 034 (87
Crotchet about £19
This DVD contains one of the greatest performances of Sibelius' Violin Concerto
you will ever hear. It is a performance that chilled me to the bone.
Maxim Vengerov, in as imperious form as I have ever heard him, gives us a
bloodcurdling display of how to make the violin, the most sheerly beautiful
of all string instruments, sound as cold and desolate as the Arctic. The
very opening has an iciness that stills the heart, the slow movement a barrenness
all of its own, the finale a lumbering gait that bears less resemblance to
one dancing polar bear, rather than a whole troupe of them.
What amazes is the depth of tone. It is just thunderous. This is a performance
that sets the contrasts of this work clearly apart - above the stave Vengerov's
purity of expression is like a glacier, below the stave like the deepest
footprints in freshly fallen snow. But it is also one of the most passionate
accounts of this deeply affecting work I have heard. It has a mixture of
poetry and anger that are almost symptomatic of the doctrine of nature itself.
Although Vengerov plays mainly with his eyes shut, there is no doubt that
his performance is anything but isolationist. After hearing this performance
you feel as if you have been on a journey through the bleakest of landscapes.
Barenboim's accompaniment is superbly well articulated with dynamics beautifully
phrased. It is the most opalescent version now available, in any format.
His two encores (the audience rightly go wild) are the sarabande from
Bach's D minor Partita (a dry, almost detached performance), and the
ballade from Ysaye's D minor Sonata (a sensational display of virtuosity).
Barenboim is pianist in Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Conducted
by Placido Domingo, I had initially thought the performance might be slack
and uneventful. It is anything but that - but it is Barenboim who impresses.
His pianism is quite thrilling, the excitement of the piece more than sustained
by Domingo's breathless tempi.
Barenboim returns to the podium as conductor in the Fire Dance. Whether planned
or otherwise, this small piece offers the first comparison of a work on Arthaus
DVDs - Abbado also plays it in his New Year's Eve Gala (also reviewed). Both
the Berlin Phil and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are stunning in their
own ways - but it is Abbado's performance that fires the imagination. His
gestures are minimal compared with Barenboim, but what beauty of sound Abbado
gets from his players (superlative flutes again). Where Abbado's performance
blazes like a raging inferno, Barenboim's is a fire that has almost burnt
to the embers.
The sound quality is again fabulous.