lunes, septiembre 07, 2015

The Barenboim marathon ends with memorable Schönberg

             In a final astonishing sprint, the Barenboim marathon ended with three concerts within 24 hours at the Colón. Him and the WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra) thus had a strenuous end to their 16 days in BA in which they were 12 times before the public in chamber groups or with the full orchestra (for Barenboim add the two reflexion days with Felipe González and have it in mind that in the brass quintet Conciertos para la Convivencia he was present but of course didn´t play or conduct). And in four concerts thay had Martha Argerich as a star presence.

            The final three concerts were on the seventh and eighth of August: the last of the Abono Estelar  was repeated exactly as a non-subscription performance the following day at 8 pm, but the artists also presented a free short Midday concert for students of city schools; this was coordinated by the Education Ministry of our city and was a warm initiative of important social content. Beethoven´s Triple Concerto was in all three concerts and in the longer ones it formed the First Part; the Second Part in both night events offered the enormous Arnold Schönberg tone-poem "Pelleas und Melisande", lasting 43 minutes.

            The Triple  Concerto is a rarity as a texture, for it adds an orchestra to a typical chamber combination: the piano trio (completed with violin and cello). If the piano trio comports the difficulty of blending two strings with an instrument of much higher volume, the problem is even greater if you add a Beethovenian orchestra, much heavier than Mozart´s. In fact, this Triple Concerto stands alone in the repertoire. It is a light Beethoven, with no drama.  Surrounded by fundamental scores like the Sonatas "Waldstein" and "Appassionata", it only aims to please. And it does, giving due relief to every soloist, though the best melodic moments are stated by the cello. A bit too long and somewhat repetitious for its material, it´s still an interesting experience.

            There are usually two types of performance for this work: an established piano trio combines with a local orchestra; or three soloists with independent careers decide to do it; but this particular case is different: the conductor is also pianist, and the string soloists are first desks of the orchestra. I have excellent memories of the first alternative: Trio di Trieste, 1963 and 1970, and Stern-Rose-Istomin, 1970; and of the second: Argerich with the Capuçon brothers.

            However, it´s pretty difficult for two first desks of a youth orchestra to compete on the same level with a world star pianist, and indeed Daniel Barenboim dominated on the piano, apart from managing  the conducting part. His son Michael Barenboim (violin), and cellist Kian Soltani (who days before had played Iranian music on the kemanche) did workmanlike and quite honorable jobs, but subordinate. In fact Michael substituted for Guy Braunstein, who fell ill. I feel that Michael is too shy, his sound is always small though in tune; he phrases musically but without a strong personality. Soltani is more sanguine but the timbre has no special beauty and he too lacks some volume, though he is louder than the violin.

            If I have some misgivings about the performance of the Triple, I can only express admiration for what the WEDO and Barenboim did with Schönberg´s masterpiece "Pelleas und  Melisande". It´s an extraordinary thing that Maeterlinck´s symbolist play inspired simultaneously the unique opera by Claude Debussy and the enormously complicated and fascinating tone poem which the Colón audience had the good fortune to hear in a model interpretation, especially considering that neither composer knew of the other´s project.

            Many years ago Franz-Paul Decker conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in a marvelous concert combining Schönberg´s "Pelleas..." with the incidental music written by Fauré and Sibelius on the same subject. The whole night was a revelation. Some seasons later Bruno D´Astoli gave a very honorable reading of the Schönberg score. Barenboim´s is as far as I know only the third time that this essential creation in the composer´s life is heard here. He recorded it with the Orchestre de Paris; other great masters also did it: Boulez, Karajan, Mitropoulos, Barbirolli.

            "Transfigured Night" is still the Schönberg piece done more often: even in its original sextet version prior to its orchestration, the white-hot expressionistic Romanticism is deeply touching; the same is true of "Pelleas..." but in a much wider scale, four years later; by then he had started on his monumental "Gurrelieder" with its strong Wagnerian influence. Not much later, his First Chamber Symphony (1906), also played by the WEDO and Barenboim on this visit, would stand on the brink of atonality. And in 1908 in his Second Quartet, featuring a soprano voice, atonalism arrived. Then came his emblematic atonal works: "Erwartung", 1909, heard at the Colón two years ago, and "Pierrot Lunaire", 1912, often interpreted here.

            The WEDO was heard in full for the only time in this visit: as Schönberg specifies, 105 players, including eight horns. Barenboim´s reading was ideal and his players responded with moving professionalism and conviction.

            The first encore was a true gift: an immaculate and poetic interpretation of Impressionism´s manifest: Debussy´s "Prélude à l´après-midi d´un faune". And responding to the audience´s delirium, the Mores tango "El firulete" in a skillful arrangement for wind ensemble by José Carli.

            Farewell, WEDO and Barenboim, until next year.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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