The Mozarteum Argentino has a long and recurrent relationship with Daniel Barenboim. He returned to our city in 1980 after decades abroad, conducting the Orchestre de Paris, and from then on came frequently, both as pianist and conductor. It´s a curious thing that his biography in the Mozarteum hand programme doesn´t include references to that musical trajectory in our main concert institution, but it is quite explicit in the programme of the Barenboim Festival: no less than ten times, playing Bach or Beethoven, conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle and the Chicago Symphony, and in 2005 the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO).
The festival is now in its third year, and each time in parallel there have been two concerts for the Mozarteum ( two cycles). When he conducts the WEDO there are inevitable duplications with the festival, a bad thing because the audience often attends both. So a chamber concert with members of the orchestra avoids that problem.
The dense agenda of this musical week forced a decision on this reviewer: although part of the programme was changed for the second cycle and was more attractive than the first, I had to go on Monday, for on Wednesday there is a major event: the National Symphony revives the complete "Roméo et Juliette" by Berlioz, 43 years after its première.
In both nights the composer Jörg Widmann is featured with premières, but on Monday the pieces are for violin and cello; on Wednesday they are for clarinet and piano and we have another facet of his art, for he plays that instrument. But the second concert is also longer, for added to Widmann´s Fantasy for clarinet Barenboim will play with him Schumann´s Three fantasy pieces Op.73 and Berg´s Four pieces Op.5. There was a change: the cellist was Kian Soltani, WEDO´s first desk, instead of the formerly announced Adi Tal.
All was well in the first item, perfectly coherent with the start of the Festival with the three final Mozart symphonies, for his Trio in C, K.548, along with another, K.542, were written in the same period. It is beautiful music, though not innovative as the symphonies; the expansion of the Piano Trio genre will come with Beethoven and Schubert, and with stronger pianos. The playing of Daniel was light, refined and harmonious, and he was abetted by his son Michael (violin) and Sultani.
Then came a selection of Widmann´s 24 Duos for violin and cello; born in 1973, he wrote them on 2008. Michael and Sultani played five of them, all very short, just seven minutes; except for a sarcastic Bavarian Waltz, I wasn´t impressed. Apparently they were played competently.
And now we come to the problematic choice: Tchaikovsky´s enormous Trio, Op.50, 1882, to the memory of Nikolai Rubinstein. An Elegiac Piece in several speeds, and a Theme with eleven contrasted variations plus a final one and a lugubrious coda. It is played more often nowadays, but it remains a tough nut to crack, for although the elegiac side suits the composer, there´s a lot of virtuosic flimflam for the piano, so much so that it is as difficult as the ultrafamous First Piano Concerto but with less substance.
Even the greatest artists have more affinity with certain styles, and frankly I was intrigued by this choice, for Barenboim is the man for music of deep import, not for empty display. He has an impressive technique, but not of this kind, and there were mistakes that aren´t usual in his generally impeccable playing. Also, speeds weren´t right from the very start, and his sound was too chunky in the frequent block chords.
A further problem was that the piano part is very heavy; to complement it you need strings with a big rich sound: Sultani has it but not Michael, so the general balance was affected. And the charm of certain bits (the Waltz, the Mazurka), was lost.
The encores atoned for this unsatisfactory Tchaikovsky: the second (slow and singing) and the third (a scintillating Scherzo) movements of Mendelssohn´s First Trio are Barenboim territory, and the interpretations were delectable.