Daniel Barenboim & Staatskapelle Berlin at Royal Festival Hall: The Bruckner Project [Symphony 7]

Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Symphony No.7 in E [Leopold Nowak edition]

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim (piano)

Reviewed by: Nicola Benson

Reviewed: 16 April, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Daniel Barenboim. Photograph: Cordula Groth courtesy Teldec Classical InternationalThis concert marked Daniel Barenboim’s return to the Southbank Centre after a triumphant project of Beethoven and Schoenberg in 2010. As part of Shell Classic International he and Staatskapelle Berlin, of which Barenboim is “Chief Conductor for Life”, are exploring Bruckner’s last three symphonies.

Barenboim gave his first official concert as a pianist in Buenos Aires, his city of birth, aged only seven. It was clear from this performance of Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto that he has lost none of his vigour and enthusiasm. One of Mozart’s greatest works, and one of only two piano concertos the composer wrote in a minor key, K491 uses fuller orchestral forces than in his other piano concertos.

The first movement was a picture of carefully-judged contrasts. The contrasts in dynamics and tone here added a dramatic edge to the classical phrasing and Mozartean delicacy. The orchestra played with precision and empathy; the respect these musicians hold for Barenboim evident from the outset. However, the solo line suffered from Barenboim’s dual role. Although thoroughly in control of the ensemble, his playing wasn’t up to the standards he has previously reached and the piano didn’t shine as the star of the work. The opening of the second movement lilted along like a lullaby and the strings produced rich, dense support, with beautifully nuanced moments from the woodwinds. The finale had impetus and energy.

The second half was devoted to one of Anton Bruckner’s best-known works, his Symphony No.7 completed in 1883 and which brought Bruckner the greatest success of his life. The first movement opens with shimmering tremolo strings, above which the cello section of Staatskapelle Berlin soared with a melody that the composer claimed to have heard in a dream. The scope of the work is majestic, the music singing out in the Royal Festival Hall through the thoughtful nature of the Berliners’ playing. Bruckner started to write the second-movement Adagio as a sort of homage to Wagner, who he revered and who was in ill-health and who died during the composition. He utilised Wagnerian instrumental forces, including four Wagner tubas (a combination of tuba and French horn), played extremely well in this performance. Rubato was sensitively applied, Barenboim’s conducting more expansive, contrasting the deep, slow and mournful opening with lighter, brighter string sections. The scherzo was quite dark and sinister in places and taken at a sprightly pace, bubbling with effervescent, barely-restrained energy. In contrast, the finale, began with a cheerful melody, passed around the orchestra. The balance was perfect and the ensemble played as one unit, responsive to every gesture made by Barenboim.

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