The equivalent DVD set, which includes this concert, has already
been most enthusiastically reviewed by David R. Dunsmore (see
In a way Iím rather glad I havenít seen the DVD since the
concert was clearly a remarkable, not to say emotional, event.
However, Iíve tried to evaluate this CD objectively, as a
purely musical offering and without taking into account the
emotion of the occasion. Itís still a pretty remarkable document.
To recap briefly.
The orchestra, named after a collection of poetry by Goethe,
was established in 1999 by Barenboim and his friend and celebrated
Palestinian intellectual, the late Edward Said. It brings
together young musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories,
a number of Arab states and Spain. In fact itís in Spain that
the orchestra assembles each summer and the Spanish government
contributed mightily to the success of this Ramallah concert
by providing diplomatic passports for all concerned.† We read
in the booklet that Barenboim and Said conceived the orchestra
as ďa workshop ... combining musical study and development
with the sharing of knowledge and comprehension between people
from cultures that have traditionally been rivals.Ē As Barenboim
makes clear in his post-concert speech, this is not an orchestra
for peace; it cannot achieve that. However, it is an organisation
that endeavours to promote greater understanding. It is to
be hoped most sincerely that the aims of its founders will
On the evidence
of this CD Barenboim has fashioned a splendid and most responsive
orchestra. One thing for which I applaud him is his decision
to divide the violins left and right. This pays particular
dividends in the finale of the symphony. The playing throughout
the concert is absolutely first rate and Barenboimís skill
in balancing the band Ė and the skill of the engineers Ė ensures
that we hear a great deal of detail as well as a most convincing
The Mozart is
a delectable, genial work and here it receives a most winning
performance. Iíve always admired Barenboim as a Mozart stylist
ever since, some thirty years ago, I acquired his EMI set
of the Mozart piano concertos in which he also directed the
English Chamber Orchestra. In this present performance he
uses a fairly big band, as is evident from the weight of tone
in the opening measures. Yet the sound is never heavy. Indeed,
he provides cultivated, alert and perceptive accompaniment
The four soloists
are magnificent. They all have evident individual personalities,
which they express, but they also play as a team. They are
nimble in the first movement and treat us to some delectable
phrasing in the Adagio. The finale features witty and pert
playing, which is complemented completely by the orchestra.
All in all this is a sparkling and hugely enjoyable performance.
symphony is in marked contrast to the sunny geniality of the
Mozart, of course. In many ways the Mozart provides an excellent
and shrewdly chosen foil for Beethovenís rhetorical masterpiece.
The influence of Furtwšngler is quite apparent in this performance,
I feel, especially in the first movement. Barenboim gives
a strong, muscular reading of the music. He makes a number
of rhetorical points along the way but I didnít feel that
these detracted from the overall flow and shape of the music
and he keeps a good, positive pulse throughout.
The second movement
is beautifully shaped. It is elegant at the start but later
Barenboim brings out the heroic stature of the music convincingly
but without any bombast. He characterises the third movement
very well indeed.
has been a very fine performance over the course of the first
three movements steps up to an altogether higher level of
attainment in the blazing finale. Barenboim manages the suspenseful
transition from the third movement marvellously. Once the
finale bursts upon us the degree of energy and vitality is
palpable. The pace is fast but not hectic. One thing that
I like very much is that, without any distortion or exaggeration,
Barenboim makes us really aware that Beethoven has added trombones
to the orchestral palette for this movement. The playing of
the orchestra is fiery and exultant. One senses that every
player is responding to the music and to the occasion and
giving his or her all. Itís a headlong but superbly controlled
rendition of the music and itís tremendously exciting, fully
deserving of the ovation at the end.
Classics have retained Barenboimís simply eloquent and sincere
speech at the end of the proceedings, though other speeches,
which were preserved on the DVD, have been omitted. After
his brief address Barenboim leads his players in a fine performance
of ĎNimrodí. As I listened I wondered if this music had ever
been played in the Ramallah before; itís moving to hear it
in this context. I get very fed up with people associating
this piece with funerals and memorials. Elgar never conceived
it as an elegy but as a moving tribute to a valued and living
friend. On such an occasion as this it would have been all
too easy to let emotion take over. Three cheers for Barenboim
in his refusal to do this. Thereís no grandstanding. The music
flows naturally and its natural nobility and grandeur is thereby
enhanced. Itís an eloquent and, above all, dignified end to
a memorable concert.
Make no mistake.
This is a very fine and rewarding disc. The playing is excellent
and the performances are thoroughly musical and enjoyable.
I found this to be a most stimulating and enjoyable CD and
I recommend it very warmly indeed.
see also Review
by David Dunsmore