Outstanding Beethoven and Schoenberg from Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra


AustriaAustria  Salzburg Festival (6) – Beethoven and Schoenberg: Guy Braunstein (violin), Kian Soltani (cello), West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (piano, conductor). Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 14.8.2015 (MB)

Beethoven – Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C major, op.56
SchoenbergPelleas und Melisande, op.5


Beethoven and Schoenberg: the same pairing as Maurizio Pollini’s recital with which my visit to this year’s Salzburg Festival began. They are both composers at the very heart of Daniel Barenboim’s repertoire, and both composers in whose music he excels. Beethoven’s Triple Concerto opened the concert in style, with just the right orchestral sound from the West-Eastern Divan: rich, dark, yes – Furtwänglerian. This might have been the surging of Schopenhauer’s Will. Barenboim understands, seemingly like few if any conductors alive, that harmony is absolutely fundamental to Beethoven and communicates that vital truth. Balance between the soloists – Barenboim, the sweet-toned Guy Braunstein, and the suave Kian Soltani – was excellent throughout, a fine balance achieved between the aristocratic and the rugged. Crucially, the music breathed – and developed. Soltani’s opening solo in the slow movement was quite delectable: beautifully shaped. This was an expansive performance from all concerned, and all the better for it. Soltani’s transition to the finale was equally impressive, and it emerged full of wit and life, underlying strength supplied by Barenboim and his orchestra.

Schoenberg’s early tone poem, Pelleas und Melisande, is a very difficult work to bring off. Indeed, for some time, I assumed the fault to lie in the work itself; it lies instead in insufficiently good performances. Barenboim’s was certainly not one of those. He veered structurally toward a Straussian reading, unlike, say, Christian Thielemann, who, with the Berlin Philharmonic  a few years ago, revealed Schoenberg’s Brahmsian credentials. Gurrelieder and, of course, Tristan were always close, even perhaps on occasion Ein Heldenleben too. There was playing of great strength and great delicacy to be heard, ever flexible to Barenboim’s demands. The West-Eastern Divan’s woodwind were outstanding throughout, reminding me more than once of Barenboim’s Wagner – in which he has always insisted on the importance of those instruments. Motivic insistence was certainly present, but not necessarily emphasised, again bringing us closer to the Wagner-Strauss axis than to Brahms. What might initially have sounded like a final dark turn was not unrelieved; variegation questioned our responses. But the final climax dwarfed its predecessors, the concluding sadness grave indeed.

Mark Berry




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