Barenboim Works His Wizardry on Mozart

GermanyGermany  Mozart: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (conductor), Dresden Music Festival 2012, Semper Opera House, Dresden, Germany 16.5.12 (MC)

Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K.543 (1788)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550 (1788)
Symphony No. 41 in C flat, K.551 ‘Jupiter (1788)

Vienna Philharmonic © Terry Linke

Three Mozart symphonies, one after the other, in the same programme. Indolent or inspired programming? I asked myself. Personally I have always shouted long and hard for more contrast in programmes but after this Vienna Philharmonic concert I realised that to dispute the will of Daniel Barenboim was folly. Three symphonies – all classical masterpieces from the pen of that classical prodigy Mozart, performed by probably the world’s finest orchestra and conducted by the musical genius that is Barenboim – was symphonic heaven. I noticed that the concert was being recorded for future radio broadcast. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a future CD as performances such as these require recording for posterity and disseminating to as wide an audience as possible.

These late Mozart symphonies run through this Vienna orchestra like lifeblood yet there was never any sense of workaday. Everything felt fresh and as newly minted as one might imagine the day Mozart completed the scores. I was immediately struck by the rich, deep resonance of the Vienna cellos and basses, producing a sound that comes from below serving to firmly underpin the orchestral sound. The high strings have a golden sheen of the like that one rarely hears. Complimented by fulsome brass and colourful woodwind the overall sound felt remarkable; so accurate and unified. For all the precision and brilliant orchestral playing it never came at the expense of losing musical character; Maestro Barenboim made sure of that. With his unique conducting style Barenboim concentrates on what he feels is most crucial. Often he nonchalantly leant back on the podium with his left arm outstretched along the top brass bar directing with a single batoned hand. Sometimes he stabbed the air horizontally with the baton and more than once the palms of the Maestro’s hands were offered out in an imploring gesture. Occasionally the bulb end of the baton and not the point was positioned facing the orchestra. This Maestro is more interested in emphasising mood and directing crucial entries rather than merely beating time.

Daniel Barenboim © Richard Schuster

Barenboim’s significantly broad dynamics were convincing and his tempi were wonderfully judged, which surprised me somewhat as his opening Allegros were quicker than I expected. Certainly the celebrated main theme in the opening Molto allegro of the G minor Symphony has never sounded so delightful. A swirling sea of melody pervaded the opening Allegro vivace of the ‘JupiterSymphony. This was robustly determined playing, full of confidence, and the shifts in tempi were remarkably well executed. There was a sure durability to the Andantes with the Maestro certainly not handling them like fragile Meissen porcelain. Probably the most enjoyable of all were the Menuettos so graceful and dance-like one could easily imagine being transported to an elegant ballroom at the Viennese court. Completely engaging were the urgently vivacious final movements. The finale of the ‘JupiterSymphony contained all the power of a Ferrari combined with the sleek control and luxury of a Rolls Royce. The audience cheered and cheered for all they were worth. Whatever wizardry was going on it worked wonderfully leaving a palpable sense that one had been privy to something very special.

Michael Cookson