The Event of the Year has one name: Daniel Barenboim. In his nineth visit since 1980, this Protean artist is undergoing (by his own will) an incredible artistic marathon: six symphonic concerts presenting the complete Beethoven symphonies and two chamber ones with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; and three presentations with the Milan La Scala forces (choir and orchestra) of Verdi scores: two "Aidas" (concert version) and the Requiem Mass. All this in fourteen days!
The Beethoven symphonies, at the Colón, were divided thus: for the Mozarteum, Nos. 1 and 2, and 5 and 6 for their First Cycle of Subscribers; Nos.3 and 4, and 7 and 8, for their Second Cycle. The Ninth will be heard in the so-called Colón Abono del Bicentenario. But the conductor added an open-air concert facing the Obelisk with the Fifth Symphony and the Overture Leonore Nº 3, in front of 50.000 people (the Leonore had been a complement to the first concert of the series). Such an intense activity certainly challenged the mettle of the young members; some played three concerts in 24 hours ( no labor union restrictions for them!). Barenboim´s legendary energy seeemed unfazed at 68-years-old.
In a speech prior to Beethoven´s "Eroica" he said some strong things: a) he was here to be in Buenos Aires on the day of the sixtieth anniversary of his first public concert in this city (at the Salón Breyer); b) the public affection of this public moves him enormously (and with reason: I´ve never heard such a huge ovation for a conductor as the one after the Fifth Symphony at the Colón); c) this Orchestra embodies peace, comprehension and union and as such is an example for the Middle East: he has no hope that an orchestra can change things in a place where such values don´t exist on either side (at least not in sufficient quantity) but he wants to show that there is an alternative way of living.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra takes its name from a Goethe creation, "West-Östliche Divan", this last word meaning a collection of poems. So, poetry represented by music unites East and West. It´s a beautiful name for an organism sited in Seville and largely made up of Israelis and Palestinians, plus some Spanish players and at least one on this occasion from Barenboim´s Berliner Staatskapelle, the cellist first chair. They meet for about three months a year and their founding fathers were Barenboim and the now deceased Edward Said. Barenboim pronounced it as "the most important thing I have done in my life".
The integral Beethoven symphonies are one of the main challenges of the repertoire, along with the complete Brahms and Mahler. I´ve heard several series, especially that of Kurt Masur with the Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig). And I must say that even with such exalted maestros as Erich Kleiber and Masur, I´ve never been so bowled over. No, the Orchestra isn´t quite as good as the Gewandhaus, but it´s certainly a very profficient organism that one always listens to with pleasure. But the point is elsewhere: the conjunction of a conductor of marvelous insight with a young, intensely motivated orchestra, playing with high involvement throughout.
Barenboim has long been a great conductor, and his last visit with the Berliner Staatskapelle combining two years ago the last three Bruckner symphonies with Schönberg scores was a thing to remember. With the same Orchestra but back in 1995 he had already done some Beethoven symphonies here. Ever since he was a kid Barenboim has had enormous respect for the great performers of the time, and has often acknowledged his enthusiasm for Furtwängler or Klemperer . Well, he combines the flights of inspiration of the former with the solid architecture of the latter, but adding a particular drive, so that his interpretations are always faithful to the score but full of life: he has total control of dynamics, which are the very soul of Beethoven, and he gives full value to each incident but never loses the overall view.
I don´t accept that the members are not listed, they merit to be: and as when they play in chamber music they are identified, I don´t believe in the explanation that the absence is due for security reasons. Apart from a few smudges from the horns and one slip from the oboe, the playing was consistently accurate, strong or delicate when needed; I especially liked the first clarinet and first bassoon. But the organism was admirable most of the time, and Barenboim never faltered. I´m deeply sorry that unforeseen private circumstances forced me to give up the concert with Symphonies 7 and 8.
The chamber concert wasn´t quite as satisfactory. Especially Beethoven´s Septet suffered, for although the wind players were quite good, the violin leads most of the time, and I found Guy Braunstein often harsh and not virtuosic enough; the other strings were much better. The Schumann Quintet was dominated by Barenboim, although the cellist Kyril Zlotnikov (from Berlin) was very good. But the concert was worth it for the local premiere of the Webern arrangement for two pianos of Schönberg´s "Five pieces for orchestra", magnificently played by Barenboim and his wife, Elena Bashkirova. I prefer the colors of the orchestra, but the talent of the players did much to render evident the enormous modernity of these 1909 pieces.
For Buenos Aires Herald