This is the third CD by
Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra whose formation
with Edward Said he’s termed ‘The most important thing I have ever done.’
It follows CDs featuring the fifth symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.
Even so, Beethoven 9 is a greater challenge. But the potential of its
choral finale text ‘Alle Menschen werden Bruder’, ‘Brotherhood unites
all men’, lies at the heart of this project, as this CD booklet states,
the orchestra exists ‘for young musicians from Israel and various countries
from the Middle East with the aim of combining musical study and development
with the sharing of knowledge and comprehension between people from
cultures that traditionally have been rivals.’ This performance is one
product of several weeks’ summer workshop.
ff for 16 bars until 10:12 when they drop to f.
The quiet passage at 15:54 just before the final onslaught smoulders
evocatively and the close blazes with that bright, steely spirit that
has characterized much of the movement.
The opening germination of the first movement first
theme in D minor is very soft indeed yet gathers by tr. 1 0:41 into
a full statement thundering out with grandeur, rhetorical power and
at least the potential of tragedy. The second group of themes in B flat
major from 2:42 starts by blending creamy woodwind and coaxingly soft
strings, soon to be mixed with more heroic and stressful matter. The
ambiguity and tension of this group is well conveyed. This ambiguity
persists in the development (5:11), the smoother material now with some
yearning. After a disciplined fugue there’s a wish to relax but also
determination to move forward. The timpani splendidly turn on the heat
at 9:27 but by 9:45 are less audible, though they are marked to hold
a roll on D
We get very much a young
orchestra’s second movement scherzo. The explosive opening is crisp
and firm, the following fugato (tr. 2 0:05) feathery. When full orchestra
comes together at 0:30 there’s a lithe engagement while the horns particularly
relish their contribution at 0:47. But there’s no possibility of any
lingering here: the second section repeat, which would come at 4:31
is omitted. The trio is blithe and quite pacy. Its rosy D major in this
context seems more a trim normality than an idyll.
The slow movement’s first
theme, in B flat major, is marked Adagio molto e cantabile. Barenboim
is arguably over generous with the molto but is certainly cantabile,
the first violins’ mezza voce sustained and expressive, the later
wind echoes as eloquent as the strings. He creates an atmosphere of
repose and sanctified contemplation. He also conveys the impression
of more freedom as the movement progresses and the violins’ notes become
shorter and more numerous.
In the mean time the second
theme (tr. 3 3:09), an Andante moderato in D major, is more restless
and worldly yet gives the second violins and violas the opportunity
to show they can be equally communicative and in passionate fashion.
Other outstanding features are the gorgeous clarinet lead from the return
of the first theme at 8:16 and the carefree flowing semiquavers of the
first violins from 9:48. I very much admire the response and inflection
Barenboim gets from those violins. The fanfares from 12:07 are rather
more formal and less heroic than they might be, but that’s how Barenboim
The finale begins in stormy
clamour and a firm, pacy cellos and double basses’ recitative and rejection
of attempts to return to the 3 earlier movements. But a growing softening
of position even in the rejections paves the way for the Ode to Joy
theme which appears very softly in cellos and double basses (tr. 4 3:19),
almost mystically as if out of the centre of the earth. Its singing
scope is sensitively established from 4:12 by cellos, now an octave
higher, and violas and gently crowned from 5:03 by the first violins
against an orchestral counterpoint that has rapidly become more elaborate
yet with a sense of affectionate, dedicated craftsmanship here.
The theme blazes forth for
the first time in the entire orchestra at 5:49 and this is given heroic
treatment by Barenboim with vibrant strings’ chords. René Pape in the
following bass recitative maintains this heroic aura and is soon aided
by a regal, beaming oboe accompanying his delivery at 8:21 of the opening
Schiller verse. Barenboim keeps up the tempo here and soloists and chorus
respond sturdily and enthusiastically, you feel inspired by the orchestra’s
example. And come the molto tenuto at the first climax, ‘vor
Gott’, ‘before God’, the sopranos are required by Barenboim to
sustain their top A for a full 10 seconds from 11:02. To appreciate
this endeavour, try singing along with them some time!
Now the Turkish March provides
a jolly East bit for the orchestra, yet just as memorable is the vigorous
and exciting double fugue from 12:45. An instance of the contrast of
skills Barenboim displays, however, is the nicely controlled pp
opening at 23:34 to the final romp and the thrilling yet also accurate
as fast as possible final flurry from 24:51. In sum, an exhilarating
experience and wonderful parting testimony to the verve and spirit of
I compared another live
performance recorded in 2006, that by Bernard Haitink with the London
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (LSO Live LSO 0092).
Here are the comparative
I find Haitink’s faster
first movement more convincing. From the start there’s more tingling
expectation in his tremolando strings and more biting attack
to the presentation of the first theme with more emphatic timpani. His
second group of themes is smoothly presented but with a rhythmic undercurrent
always impelling them forward. His development fugue is rigorous and
the timpani make more impact. He can bring a feel of reverie to the
quieter moments without loss to his overall sense of momentum and drama.
Barenboim’s start is more
mysterious and poetic, but less tense, which is characteristic of the
movement as a whole. The delivery of the first theme has more rhetoric,
less snarl about it. However, I like his more relaxed second group of
themes because the contrasts are built into the music. His first and
second violins’ demisemiquaver exchanges from tr. 1 4:18 are more stylish,
if less exciting, than Haitink’s, but they are more exciting at their
return at 12:25. Barenboim’s fugue from 7:05 is more formal than Haitink’s,
very firm, less mordant, yet interestingly rather more pliable. He also
brings more sheeny tenderness to the quieter passages.
Haitink’s scherzo looks
slower in its published timing but is in fact a little faster than Barenboim’s
because he repeats the second section. I have given the timing comparable
to Barenboim’s in brackets in the table above. His fugato is sparkling
and playful but becomes boisterous. His quieter passages are refined,
the louder quite racy. His trio is smooth but pacy, as if engaged in
blithe games, simple and innocent, yet always with momentum which displays
the unity of this element and the movement.
Barenboim’s scherzo is more
strongly contrasted, with the tempi a little more elastic. His fugato
is more feathery but works itself into a full orchestra statement of
livelier articulation with its rasping horns. The trio depicts more
of an ideal state of affairs, a benign haven or reflection, yet also
with a sense of purpose about it. Barenboim honours it more as a distinctive
element in this movement. Unlike Haitink he isn’t using the Barenreiter
urtext, which may explain the lack of scherzo second section repeat.
Barenboim’s timpani motif at tr. 2 3:00 and 9:55 is presented soft because
of the diminuendo marked for the wind parts, but as Haitink shows
it should remain loud like its 4 predecessors.
Haitink’s swifter slow movement
has at first a warmer, more tender effect because the shape of the melody
is clearer, there’s less dwelling just on the moment. His second theme
is equally searching but more insistent. His main tempo is comfortable,
progressive and provides for a sense of mystery in the passages between
sections. His fanfares have heroic splendour.
Barenboim is more sustained
and reverent, with the focus at least as much on individual phrases
as on paragraphs. The overall effect is more expressive, the question
how expressive do you want this movement? His second theme is more ardent
while the first violins’ later elaboration of the first is a thing of
beauty in its own right. Yet at tr. 3 9:48 the theme is well shaped
in the wind against the first violins’ glistening semiquavers.
Haitink’s finale has great
urgency in its opening cellos and double basses’ recitatives yet more
of a feel that their responses are germinating a theme. They then present
the Ode to Joy theme smoothly and with a natural flow. Its full
orchestra version is bright and crisp but not especially grand. Gerald
Finley, Haitink’s opening bass soloist, is finely focussed with a gentler
radiance than Barenboim’s, as is the oboe accompaniment. Haitink’s chorus
is fresh and animated but he only requires them to stand five seconds
‘before God’. The Turkish March is jubilant enough and John Mac Master
is a brighter, fuller-toned tenor soloist than Barenboim’s. Haitink
then keeps the double fugue on a tighter rein. His chorus, however,
presents ‘Freude, schöner Gotterfunken’, ‘Joy, O wondrous spark divine’
ecstatically and firmly launches into the later presentation of this
text in tandem with ‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen!’, ‘Embrace each other
now, you millions!’. Haitink’s close is lively enough too.
Barenboim’s opening cellos
and double bass recitatives for the finale are sterner and more rhetorical:
he sees the device dramatically whereas Haitink sees it symphonically.
On first appearance the Ode to Joy theme, on cellos and double
basses only, is marked p but Barenboim presents it pp.
This makes the later progressive layering of the upper strings clearer,
presented by Barenboim with more affection and nuance than Haitink.
Barenboim’s full orchestra version has more grandeur and magnanimity.
Barenboim’s chorus is less
incisive than Haitink’s but weightier. And it needs to be given the
magnificent engagement of the orchestra with its ‘Freude, schöner Gotterfunken’
(tr. 4 14:25). Barenboim’s Turkish March is more impish. His double
fugue has considerably more impetus. His chorus throws itself with gutsy
resolution into the presentation of those two texts in tandem (18:56).
And orchestra, at first with chorus, is truly supercharged in the closing
sprint. In sum, Barenboim’s finale has more of a sense of occasion and
is as moving as any I’ve heard.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s
performance is a formidable achievement and one which grows in authority
as it progresses. Being one performance only Barenboim’s recording has
more integrity than the Haitink compilation from two concerts, but also
therefore some less tidy moments. Both recordings are similarly bright
in tone, Barenboim’s has rather more body. Haitink’s Beethoven is the
more classical, Barenboim’s the more romantic. With Haitink you admire
Beethoven’s consistency, with Barenboim you admire his contrasts. Haitink
is much tidier, Barenboim more gripping. But if you only had Barenboim
you’d not know how much more tense the first movement can be. And if
you only had Haitink you wouldn’t know how much more colourful the finale