West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – 1 [Liszt, Wagner & Berlioz]

Les préludes
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim

Reviewed by: Alex Verney-Elliott

Reviewed: 21 August, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Daniel Barenboim rehearsing with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Manuel Vaca ©2009 perezvaca@gmail.comThe West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (named after Goethe’s cycle or diwan of lyric poems modelled on the Persian poet Hafiz) is celebrating its 10th-anniversary since being founded by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said.

The concert opened with Liszt’s Les préludes, given a refreshingly lean-sounding interpretation with transparent chamber-like textures and played with sensitive refinement and free from the sensational bombast often associated with the work.

Barenboim and his musicians then gave an intensely moving performance of the Wagner. The woodwind solos were poignantly phrased and the strings played with expressive warmth perfectly integrated with the mellow-toned brooding brass: this a deeply affecting account found Arab and Israeli musicians playing with a unifying voice: if only life was like music.

Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique proved the ideal showcase for these versatile and stylish players. Barenboim offered a refreshingly extravagant and highly subjective reading, a fantastically imaginative interpretation that avoided being mannered or wilful. Throughout Barenboim conducted with total control over structure and dynamic contrasts.

The first movement was wonderfully buoyant, whilst the second-movement waltz had an initiate charm and elegance (harp detail glittering through). The pastoral slow movement was very solemn, the poignant cor anglais solos starkly juxtaposed by the four timpanists rumbling thunder, an eerie sensation; and then ‘March to the Scaffold’ and ‘Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath’ were played with breathtaking bravura, details clear even in the biggest climaxes.

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