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Live in Ramallah
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn, KAnh.9 (297b)* [29:42]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67† [31:35]
Speech by Daniel Barenboim. [4:34]
Encore Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Nimrod from Enigma Variations Op. 36 [4:06]
*Mohamed Saleh (oboe); Kinan Azmeh (clarinet); Mor Biron (bassoon); Sharon Polyak (horn)
West Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. live, Cultural Palace, Ramallah, 21 August 2005. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62791-2 [69:57]

 



The equivalent DVD set, which includes this concert, has already been most enthusiastically reviewed by David R. Dunsmore (see review). 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 be achieved.

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 overall sound-picture.

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 throughout.†

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.

The Beethoven 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.

However, what 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.

Wisely, Warner 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.

John Quinn

see also Review by David Dunsmore

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