, June 2010
DVD of the Month
Barenboim and Rattle bring passion and virtuosity to Brahms
These extraordinary performances were recorded live at the Herodes Atticus Odeon in Athens in 2004 and offer the first musical encounter between Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle. One-time rivals for the post of principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, they here unite, happy to pay tribute to each other in a performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto of an epic grandeur and raw emotional intensity. Barenboim, pianist, conductor and political activist, has clearly reached the pinnacle of a dazzling career (a prophecy of his recent London performances of the complete Beethoven sonatas and concertos) that has ranged from prodigy to the fullest maturity. Caught on this form, few musicians can approach him in stature. Rattle launches the opening tutti with an explosive force, and after an oddly stiff and self-conscious entry (music that Tovey claimed as equal to anything in Bach’s St Matthew Passion) he quickly declares his true status, playing with a dark eloquence and with a breadth and range of inflection that allows him to savour every detail. Rarely can the first movement’s coda have emerged with such frenzied emotion, and here in particularly both Barenboim and Rattle combine to sound like King Lear raging against the universe (“Blow winds and crack your cheeks…”). The second movement, Brahms’s response to Schumann’s attempted suicide, is weighted with an almost unbearable significance and intensity, and in the finale Wolf’s strange dictum, “Brahms cannot exult”, is turned topsy-turvy.
The performance ends in a storm of applause and presentation of an outsize bouquet to Barenboim who graciously plucks out a single rose for his partner in glory. A playful tug-of-war follows as both artists seek to acknowledge each other’s achievement. Schoenberg’s 1937 orchestral arrangement of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet follows, a glowing attribute from one composer to another, recreated in all its richness by Rattle and the orchestra. Their way with the gypsy finale, aptly described as showing Brahms’s taste for “vigorous horseplay”, brings this momentous occasion to a close. There are more flowers and a standing ovation from an audience both elated and exhausted.