Review: Staatskapelle Berlin with Daniel Barenboim

Sunday, January 29 2017
Carnegie Hall, New York, NY

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim, conductor and piano

Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 23 (1786)
Bruckner, Symphony No. 9 (1896)

The lady next to me called Daniel Barenboim “the guy who was married to Jacqueline du Pre”.  Well, I guess that’s one way of putting it, even if his Mozart was underwhelming today.  He and his highly regarded orchestra seemed worn out, which is understandable given that this was the final concert of their ambitious Bruckner cycle at Carnegie Hall over the past week and half.  (That, and it can’t be easy to be foreigners in America right now.)  Moreover, some pieces, such as Mozart’s sublime 23rd piano concerto, probably shouldn’t have the conductor doubling as the soloist.  The first movement sounded thin and messy, perhaps under-rehearsed.  The achingly beautiful second movement was unfortunately a complete throwaway–in a movement where every note demands to be finished off and the spaces between notes are not meant to be rushed, Barenboim was forced to tend to the orchestra at the expense of his own instrument.  The upbeat final movement somewhat salvaged the performance, as the simpler rhythmic patterns and less conflicted pathos allowed the percussive piano and lilting strings to shine.

I’m not at that point yet in my music education where I can pretend to understand Bruckner.  When I listen to his symphonies, especially the Ninth, I hear grandiose designs of Beethoven at times and cosmic darkness of Mahler at others, but overall the music is a bit eccentric and inaccessible.  Nevertheless, I sense that the orchestra was much better prepared and suited for the Bruckner than it was for the Mozart.  Without being able to follow the symphony’s own structure, I sat through the performance by imagining it as the score to a highlight reel of the 2016 World Series.  Turns out that may actually be onto something, as the music’s endless highs and lows eventually lead into a fervently hopeful build-up that explodes in a wrenching, dissonant diminished seventh chord.  Several seconds of abyss follows before a harmonic but muted adagio-like epilogue wraps up the journey.  As a diehard Cleveland fan, that’s not altogether different from how I think of the World Series, if I have the heart to think about it at all, in retrospect.

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