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Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, July 2009

I reviewed the CD issue of this performance of the Beethoven Ninth and I equivocated over whether to endorse the performance on its musical merits alone. I have since spent a considerable amount of time listening to Daniel Barenboim’s set of the Beethoven symphonies (with the Berlin Staatskapelle, Warner Classics), as well as reading some of his thoughts concerning Beethoven and interpretation, and I have developed a better understanding of his approach to this music. I’m glad to be able to write again about this concert.

Of course, the primary advantage of the DVD over the CD is the visual element: it is easy to become engrossed in the music-making of this attractive and wonderfully accomplished group of young musicians; their concentration, eyes riveted on the conductor, produces not only consummate musicianship but brings smiles of contentment to Barenboim—this is the look of a man who sees, per aspera ad astra, his efforts and struggles fully vindicated.

As for the music itself, both Overture and Symphony are conceived on a dramatically Romantic scale. The Overture has gained two minutes since the recording in Berlin in 1999, but those two minutes have produced an even more brooding and melancholy Adagio section that builds through tentative, nearly motionless measures to the brilliant Allegro. The principal flute and bassoon are especially notable in this opening piece.

The performance of the Ninth is characterized by moderate—some might say extremely moderate—tempos in three of the four movements. I’ve come to appreciate, though, that this temperate attitude toward forward motion produces a coherent and balanced architectonic structure of the utmost clarity. Care has been taken with the seating of the players as well, first violins to conductor’s left, seconds to his right, the violas and cellos in the center, and basses to the left rear; the horns are seated to the right, near the trumpets and trombones, winds filling out the middle. This arrangement makes even the subtlest inner voice audible.

Perhaps most important of all in this Symphony is the effectiveness of the inter-relatedness of the tempos to the interpretation. The very quick Scherzo—molto vivace—provides a highly precise contrast to the intense drama of the first movement and imbues the Adagio with an even deeper sense of calm. The orchestra in this third movement is at its most impressive, as the players manage flawlessly sustained phrases at molto adagio tempo, and with no loss of the singing line, particularly in the violins and principal flute and oboe.

The finale is grand indeed, paced as before for maximum clarity and impact. The cellos and basses are wondrously muted for the introduction of the “Freude” theme, which gradually builds to its climax by the full orchestra. The chorus of the State Opera is relatively small but very effective, and the vocal quartet is among the best in recent years.

The video production is unfussy, moving intelligently between close-ups and the (relatively rare) long shot; there is also the occasional candid moment: the hand-held camera focuses on one of the cellists during the finale, who casts a quick glance and smile at her stalker, and then resumes concentration on the music at hand. The usual audio options are available, but for bonus material there is only a picture gallery and selection of trailers for other DVDs. No matter: the concert is the attraction here. This orchestra of Palestinian and Israeli young people that spends a summer shedding preconceptions and antipathies while studying music together has produced a Beethoven Ninth of substance and power; Barenboim has not just added to his impressive discography, he has put into practice an idea borne of politics but ultimately concerned with humanity.



Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, March 2009

Daniel Barenboim is the conductor of his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in a new DVD of the Leonora Overture No.3 and the Beethoven Ninth (Medici Arts 2055528). This was a concert given in the Berlin Philharmonie on August 27, 2006 with soloists Angela Denoke, soprano; Waltraud Meier, mezzo; Burkhard Fritz, tenor; and René Pape, bass, and the State Opera Chorus. Barenboim assembles the orchestra every summer, bringing together young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries. They tour widely and Barenboim’s hope is that this orchestra is a visible and viable artistic link between their people. Here is absolutely inspired playing with each and every player giving it better than their best. So well rehearsed are they that Barenboim’s directions are fewer than one is accustomed to seeing. I have viewed this DVD several times and have not been tempted to skip forward or stop. These are stunning, professional performances, superbly documented. Viewing this concert and seeing the performers and conductor was a definite plus to the appreciation of the music. Seeing and hearing becomes one experience.






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8:15:49 PM, 12 July 2014
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