Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim in New York

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Concerto in E flat for two pianos, K365
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Radu Lupu (piano)

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim (piano)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 11 February, 2006
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

Daniel Barenboim brought Staatskapelle Berlin to Carnegie Hall on 11 & 12 January in the third traversal in New York of Mozart’s final three symphonies. Unlike Sir John Eliot Gardiner (21 January at Alice Tully Hall) and Lorin Maazel (several February dates in Avery Fisher Hall), Barenboim chose not to present all three works as a single concert. Instead, numbers 39 and 41 were performed at this concert and number 40 was paired with Symphony No.25 and Piano Concerto No.22 the following evening – just as New York was in the throes of a storm that deposited the largest recorded snowfall in the city’s history (and, regrettably, prevented this reviewer from getting to Carnegie Hall).

Experiencing three successive renditions of Mozart’s last symphonies was somewhat like being visited by three spirits. If Gardiner, by using period instruments tuned lower than standard concert pitch, was the Spirit of Mozart Past, and if Maazel’s modern orchestra performances in a large concert hall made him the Spirit of Mozart Present, then inevitably – and appropriately – Barenboim was the Spirit of Mozart Yet to Come. Also using modern orchestral forces, Barenboim demonstrated how Mozart had laid the foundation for the future of the symphony, which, owing to his untimely death, was perforce left for others to build upon.

Mozart never returned to the genre of the symphony in the three years between composing the trilogy of 39-41 in the summer of 1788 and his death in 1791, perhaps believing that he had taken the symphony as far as he could. From the very outset of No.39, Barenboim adduced orchestral tonalities that strongly anticipated those of Beethoven, particularly in the sound of the timpani and trumpets and the balance between them and the strings and woodwinds. He also took liberties with rhythmic and dynamic elements that were more typical of Beethoven’s era than Mozart’s. Barenboim thus made explicit what was left implicit in the score and in more historically faithful performances, such as Gardiner’s: that Mozart left the symphony in ready-for-Beethoven condition.

What Barenboim gives us is not Mozart in historical preservation mode, but rather in the context of historical development. He leads us across a bridge of Mozart’s design, linking the earlier Sinfonia (as developed by both Mozart and Haydn) with the later symphonic form that Beethoven established in his first two symphonies and then transformed, beginning with the Eroica, to point the way to a century of masterpieces by himself and others.

Barenboim’s interpretations sometimes differed structurally from those recently offered by Gardiner and Maazel. In the Jupiter, for example, Barenboim skipped the repeats in the first two movements, but took both in the finale. This created a radically different balance from both Gardiner and Maazel.

Quite apart from such considerations, Barenboim’s readings of numbers 39 and 41 were engrossing and exciting. His orchestra played with evident physical vigour – the string players’ bows digging into the strings as the players swayed to Barenboim’s often-brisk tempos.

The Concerto for two pianos, offered between the two symphonies, was amiable, if hardly a match for those masterpieces. In the extended introduction and first movement interludes, the orchestra played with an admirably clear and light sound, but once the pianos made their rollicking entrance, Mozart left nearly all of the heavy lifting to them, their interplay with one another being far more inventive and interesting than any of the orchestral passages. In the Andante, the orchestra had a more significant presence, which it effected with delicacy, nicely counterbalancing Barenboim’s and Lupu’s lyrical playing. In the concluding movement the action shifted back to the pianos, with the orchestra anchoring the movement by periodically returning to the lively rondo theme with which it opened. The pianos, meanwhile, provided half a dozen or more variations of the theme, with the lead-role shifting back and forth between them several times.

Following the concerto, Lupu and Barenboim offered as an encore a languorous rendition of the Andante from Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos (K448). This is the Mozart work that some researchers have found to have beneficial effects on listeners, including improving spatial reasoning skills and the performance of such tasks as paper cutting and folding, and even reducing the frequency of epileptic seizures. Perhaps these claims are true: audience members appeared to have no difficulty exiting the auditorium or folding their programme books or to be suffering seizures. The only perceptible ‘Mozart Effect’ as the audience filed out for the interval was numerous inquiries as to what work they had just heard.

The evening concluded with an orchestral encore: a Minuet from the Divertimento, K334.

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