The Colón concert of Thursday, August 4th, was truly memorable. It was the fifth of the Abono Azul (Blue Subscription Series) and was repeated the following day (Función Extraordinaria, non-subscription). The artists were Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO).
This time the programme was long and satisfying, and all concerned were at their best. One general conclusion: Argerich and Barenboim are at the top of their profession and in their early seventies they show no decline. And the WEDO has improved greatly: it is astonishing that young people on a seasonal (not permanent) orchestra should show such maturity, both in the command of their instruments and in the integration of a common concept. There´s real talent in all of them, though of course they have the privilege of a great conductor that gives them style and unity.
The concert began with a première: "Con brio" by Jörg Widmann. Barenboim had already promoted him in two chamber concerts with different programming of the Mozarteum Argentino (in the second he also played clarinet). This score for full orchestra lasts 11 minutes and although it isn´t divided into two parts it changes sharply after the first minutes, characterised by violent attacks followed by deep silences and by the mixture of musical sounds with noise as defined by Britannica: sound that interferes with other sounds that are being listened to. I wasn´t attracted so far, but later we hear recognisable melodies as well as fanfares and the mix becomes intriguing. My wife´s imaginative phrase accords with my reaction: "noises, echoes and resonances of bellicose actions in an inhospitable jungle".
Barenboim led the piece with strong impact and the WEDO responded with exemplary discipline. The author made his bow and was warmly applauded.
Franz Liszt´s Piano Concerto Nº1 is the most innovative and personal of Romantic concerti. In it (as in the Sonata) rhetorics are never vain; the ideas are substantial, moving and coherent. It is terribly difficult to play: Liszt did for piano technique what Paganini had done for the violin: an extraordinary expansion of the possibilities of each instrument. And his orchestration gives lovely solos for diverse players dialoguing with the piano.
You need a true virtuoso that is also a great artist, and a very attentive and collaborative conductor: Sviatoslav Richter and Kyrill Kondrashin are a good reference, and so is Argerich on record with Abbado; live with Barenboim on this occasion will long be in the memories of those who were at this concert. I heard Argerich with Dutoit and the National Symphony in this concerto back in 1969; she was young and an amazing powerhouse. Forty-seven years later her incredible technique and stamina remain untouched (if I except her rushed and not altogether clean first entrance). The final minutes were as exciting as they were musical, always abetted by the best collaboration from the WEDO and Barenboim.
There was a wonderful surprise: her encore wasn´t a short and easy piece from Schumann´s "Scenes from childhood" as she generally does, but an ideal performance of the best of Ravel: "Ondine", first number of "Gaspard de la Nuit". The fluidity of the playing in this devilishly intricate piece and the subtlety of her touch were an object lesson of Impressionism (as is her recording of 1974).
The second part was simply the best Wagner playing heard here in a very long time. Maybe as far back as Leitner and Leinsdorf in the Sixties. Barenboim conducted at the Bayreuth Festival from 1981 to 1999, and he did the unparelleled feat of doing the ten great operas in a period of a few weeks in Berlin. Wagner is perfect for him: music of enormous technical accomplishment in which the system of Leitmotiven proves to be an astonishingly flexible array of moods and emotions. Wagner´s continuity imbricates easily with Barenboim´s rich intellect. The chosen 45 minutes are among the greatest orchestral music of the Nineteenth Century and had glorious performances: the interpretations were simply beyond reproach and the playing proved that the WEDO is strong in all departments, very minor smudges apart: the mellowness and musicality of the brass, the fine woodwind solos, the mahogany-hued strings always disciplined and intense, all made for a constant state of direct communication with the music.
The "Tannhäuser" Overture (Dresden version) went swimmingly both in the solemn pilgrim melodies and in the bacchanical frenzy of the Venusberg. The most dramatically complex music came from "The Twilight of the Gods": the Dawn after the Norns´ scene is joined in the concert adaptation with the final pages of the Siegfried-Brünnhilde duet and goes straight on to the jubilant "Siegfried´s Rhine Journey". But Barenboim cunningly omitted the brilliant coda and went on as in the opera, where the atmosphere becomes gloomy as the hero approaches the Gibichung Palace, for in it looms Hagen, who will kill him in the Third Act; and this version even adds a transformed fragment from the end of the Second Act, that terrible conspiratorial Trio.
It would have been better to go on without applause to "Siegfried´s Funeral Music" but that was not to be; anyway, that magnificent evokation was spine-tingling in this version. And the best possible conclusion for the programme, the Overture to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", to my mind the greatest ever written. The encore was complementary: the serene and sad Prelude to the Third Act of the same opera.
For Buenos Aires Herald