Concert Review: Barenboim in Vienna

The Mozart piece and Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony were rendered with Barenboimian velocity.

DANIEL BARENBOIM 88 224 (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Barenboim in Vienna The Vienna Philharmonic Vienna Musikverein Hall June 7 Israeli classic music lovers who were not privileged to gain access to Daniel Barenboim's appearance at the last Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival had a welcome opportunity to console themselves in Vienna with invitations to his performance with the Vienna Philharmonic. His matinee concert, at 11 a.m., started appropriately with Mozart's Little Night Music and De Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. In Barenboim's double capacity as conductor and pianist, the lightness of his pianistic touch and his subtlety of sound, more than any Spanish-like rhythmic energies, were particularly noteworthy in the Gardens. Special praise is due to his performance of Sounding for Piano and Orchestra, composed in 2005 by the 97-year-old Elliott Carter. This was an ambitious undertaking, with a formidable array of diverse instruments and interplay of sonorities, among which the piano figured not chiefly as soloist, but as one of the instrumental crowd. The Mozart piece and Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony were rendered with Barenboimian velocity, without Mozartian elegance and without Mendelssohnian melodiousness, but with breathless haste and swallowed notes sufficient for composing another symphony. This was not quite a tempo that appealed to the "gemuetliche" Vienna audience. The applause was polite. After all, present-day Viennese are polite people. When Barenboim appeared for a third, and last, curtain call, the orchestra had already left the stage for lunch - with presumably cold soup - despite Barenboim's breakneck speed. That a Viennese audience can also applaud with enthusiasm - not to say frenzy - was demonstrated two weeks earlier when it hardly let Russian conductor Valery Gergiev get off the stage after two not-quite-easily digestible works by Sibelius and Stravinsky. Despite Barenboim's ambitions regarding Wagner's operas, or perhaps just because of them, he had to face stiff competition on his present visit to Vienna. In the same week, the State Opera presented an outstanding performance of The Valkyrie, as part of the entire Ring of the Nibelung cycle. Conductor Franz Welser-Moest created a richness of sound, dramatic tension, force of expression and subtlety of nuances such as one hardly dares to expect from an opera orchestra. Director Sven-Eric Bechhtolf mercifully did not permit himself to get trapped in the current trend of modernist absurdities, but developed his innovativeness within the confines of tasteful liberal conservatism. Bass Juha Uusitalo was a dignified, authoritative though hen-pecked and necessarily impotent Wotan. The diminutive Nina Stemme as Sieglinde - far from the image of the formidable Wagnerian soprano in bygone days, voluminous in voice and stature - was lovely in sound and figure, making one understand lyric tenor Johan Botha's falling in love with her, in the role of Siegmund. Soprano Eva Johansson, as Bruennhilde, was not only an overwhelming heroine, but also a compassionate female human being. The apparent impossibility of assembling such a superb cast in Israel is, of course, not the main reason for making such a local performance a matter of wishful thinking. Strange as it may appear, it has so far never been realized that if the Nazi leadership had not been too dumb to correctly understand Wagner's real intentions of his sardonic ridiculing the Germanic gods ("A mob of lust-ridden creatures," in Siegfried) and his merciless forecast of their downfall, they ought to have banned his operas rather than elevating Wagner to the rank of their court composer. Similarly, if Israeli politically motivated functionaries who promote pseudo-emotional pretexts were not equally dumb, they ought to encourage the performance of Wagner's Twilight of the Gods.