Pappano and Barenboim: Great Partners in Music, Great Friends in Life

ItalyItaly Mozart, Chopin: Orchestra dell Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Conductor, Sir Antonio Pappano. Daniel Barenboim (piano).. Parco della Musica Rome, 13.11.2012 (JB)

 Mozart: Overture Le Nozze di Figaro
Concerto no. 27 in B flat K595.
Chopin: Concerto no. 1 in E minor, Op 11

Daniel Barenboim has just celebrated his seventieth birthday. At the same time, he is celebrating sixty years as a performer. Pupil, first of his mother, then his father, he began an international career at the age of ten. One of these first recitals was for Rome’s Accademia Filarmonica Romano on Saturday 20 December 1952 –sixty years ago, almost exactly to the date.

Another interesting Rome connection occurred when Enrique Barenboim signed his son up for Carlo Zecchi’s Master Class at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, where on 6 July 1956, fourteen year old Daniel played his graduation recital, with eight members of the jury awarding him the highest votes and one member abstaining.

Many years later, when he had responsibilities in Paris, he programmed a recital series of the world’s most distinguished pianists of the day. Everyone wanted to play in this series and after a number of false starts, that included Benedetti Michelangeli. When the great Italian pianist arrived, he informed Daniel that it was he who had abstained from voting at Barenboim’s graduation recital. And I want you to know that this was not a vote against you, but against your father, added Michelangeli: no fourteen year old boy should have been playing Beethoven Opus 111. Today, Barenboim concedes that Michelangeli had been right.

At the end of the rehearsal on Monday morning, 10 December 2012, Santa Cecilia called a press conference, during which, LIDU (Lega Italiana Dei Diritti Dell’ Uomo) presented Daniel Barenboim with their annual Paolo Ungari gold medal (in this case it was a gold baton) in recognition of the maestro’s dedication through music in uniting disparate parties through his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which readers of these dispatches will know, has successfully brought together young Middle Eastern players in a remarkable cultural experience.

United too, were two old friends, Antonio Pappano and Daniel Barenboim. It pleased Barenboim to remind the ladies and gentlemen of the music press how the two of them had met, when Barenboim was auditioning singers in Berlin for Bayreuth. A perfectly dreadful soprano arrived with a remarkable accompanist. You can let the soprano go, said Barenboim, but I’d like to keep the pianist. I need an assistant. Thus was the Barenboim / Pappano partnership born.

They say that a good photo is worth a thousand words. Well just look at this one, taken by Santa Cecilia at Monday morning’s rehearsal:

Photo credit: courtesy of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Photo credit: courtesy of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

By a happy coincidence, partnership is largely what Mozart’s last piano concerto is all about. Herman Abert has argued that during his final, difficult, painful, years, there were oases in which Mozart was not writing to a too-tight commission timing, but permitting himself the rare luxury of producing music which he, Wolfgang Amadeus, wanted to produce. K.595, says Abert, was such a work. The opening passage of the first Allegro fell out of Barenboim’s fingers as though that is where it permanantly resided, even when it wasn’t being played. And that feeling of the sun having come out on a dark life was delightfully evident.

But it is the relationship of the dark and the light which gives K595 its life-force. And never were there two better friends (keep in mind that this is a friendship forged in music) to coax this force from the printed page. Phrases were passed between soloist and orchestra with breathtaking subtlety. The orchestra’s famous wind section were on top form, interjecting musical comments on the proceedings which Mozart provides them with throughout, but particularly in the Larghetto.

Barenboim’s balance of hands is famously the most expressive on today’s scene. Add to that, his possibility to balance this with the intricacies of the orchestral interventions, which are in the hands of a friend whom he admires and understands. And there you have the picture. This was a rare privilege for the three thousand of us in the hall.

This was not delicate-china Mozart for all its refinement. Some of the sounds were arrestingly militaristic. That was especially the case with the Nozze di Figaro overture. Sir Antonio gave us this as though there was just as much drama as joy in Figaro’s wedding. That doesn’t mean the latter quality was missing, but in the Pappano reading, the two qualities ought to be contrasted. I personally have my doubts about this. But who am I? This was an impressive reading of a familiar score.

Chopin’s first concerto is an admirable vehicle for Barenboim’s cantabile touch. I can think of no other pianist who makes the piano sing so well as he. The orchestra’s brass got their brief moment of glory in the opening Allegro Maestoso. But again, it was the balance between soloist and orchestra which was so arresting. They spoke sometimes as one voice and sometimes as partners but always with the piano as the god of the show. And that is right for Chopin. The pianist first met the conductor as a hugely sensitive accompanist. And that is what he did here.

Daniel Barenboim’s magic cantabile sent us off into the night with the encore of the Chopin Op 27 no 2 Nocturne in D flat. That was a sound which will live for ever in the ears of all of us lucky enough to have been present.

Jack Buckley