After Barenboim's wretched Pathétique, I feared the worst for this
Fifth, but in fact he plays the piece relatively
straight. Tempi are motile and propulsive, even in the slow introductions
that stand as temptations to treacle. The conductor's quirky phrasing
preferences, for once, actually enhance the music's coherence.
The first movement's main theme, its detached under-articulations
underplayed, comes across in arching four-bar phrases, while "long
bows" at the end of string phrases help to connect musically
disparate episodes. The finale gains in agitated impulse when
you can hear as many of its swirling accompaniments as you do
On the debit side, Barenboim's
decision to take the finale attacca from the end of the waltz is unnecessary, and jarring
in effect. And the woozy coordination after 3:00 in the Andante suggests a prevailing uncertainty
about the music's underlying tactus, an impression further reinforced
by the way a tempo will occasionally lurch ahead, without apparent
motivation. Otherwise, the Chicago Symphony's playing is firm
and full, making plenty of impact. If the uncredited
principal horn in the Andante
(Dale Clevenger?) seems marginally out of tune with the accompanying
strings, at least the reeds have resolved the pitch discrepancies
that were such a trial in the Abbado version (Sony).
I doubt Barenboim conducts 1812 much in concert, but he's recorded it twice now. His DG version,
also with the CSO, was impressive in a sight-reading sort of way
(on the conductor's part, that is, not the players'!); the new
performance, thrusting and strongly accented, improves on it.
Once again, though, the music lurches forward spasmodically; and
the triangle repeatedly anticipates the downbeats at 10:13 and
thereafter - this is more annoying than you might think - and
actually has to adjust mid-course.
One is tempted to recommend this disc, simply
because it's so much better than most of Barenboim's
output, and for its brilliant, bassy
sonics. But it wouldn't be quite fair.
Even if you specifically want the Chicago orchestra, both Solti
(on his Decca analog) and Ozawa (BMG-RCA)
have done better by them in the symphony. Guido Cantelli's
1952 NBC Symphony aircheck, a no-nonsense
yet cantabile performance once available in
Music & Arts set CD-602, remains my favorite
Fifth, monaural sound notwithstanding.