, January 2011
A very entertaining perspective on the many talents of the maestro! Four films from two continents.
Daniel Barenboim burst onto the musical scene nearly sixty years ago as a child prodigy pianist. His entire adult career has been spent developing and sharing what is clearly prodigious talent and boundless enthusiasm for music as a truly cross-cultural experience. Born in Argentina of Jewish parents, his family relocated to Israel when Daniel was ten. By that time, however, the young Barenboim was already a fine pianist, raised Jewish, infused with much Argentine culture and surrounded by a circle of friends from diverse cultures and possessed with a variety of musical talents. It is this very mosaic of experiences that makes Barenboim one of the late 20th century’s true ambassadors for classical music and unique among his generational cohorts.
This wonderful new four-DVD set from EuroArts “Arte Edition”, A Daniel Barenboim Collection, is so attractive and revealing. The first disc shows Barenboim, the pianist, playing an all Liszt program, entitled “Tribute to Italy”, at the La Scala opera house in 2007. The program consists of selections from Liszt’s second set of “Years of Pilgrimage”, the “St. Francis d’Assise” from his “Legendes” and three of Liszt’s pieces based on themes from Verdi operas. Even if this is one’s first exposure to Barenboim as pianist, this recital reveals some of why he is considered on the masters of the second half of the century. The Verdi arrangements are crowd pleasers and marvelously played but, as composition, the gems are the Legende No. 1—“St. Francis’ Sermon to the Birds” with its shimmering and twittering that presages Messiaen and, likewise, the “Pilgrimage No. 7” after a lecture by Dante, which contains long descending chromatic descents into hell and the suspensions and unresolved layers of harmony as if to try to avoid perdition.
The second disc presents a particular treat and a musical experience most viewers will find new and exciting. This a video concert from New Year’s Eve, 2006, when Barenboim returned to his childhood roots to present a free outdoor concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Entitled “Tangos Sinfonicos”, the program features both traditional tango selections as well as tango-inspired symphonic compositions, including some by the renowned Astor Piazzola and Horacio Salgun. Guest artists Leopoldo Federico and his “Orquestra Tipica” are joined by a tango-dancing couple and also by singer Carlos Gari. The experience is an exhilarating look at a culture that exudes energy and emotion. Just watching makes one wish they were present to be a part of the experience.
The third disc reveals Barenboim as a no frills but very skilled conductor. More importantly, his program with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra demonstrates the maestro’s passion for music as a cultural bridge and his commitment to find commonality among seemingly disparate groups. The concept is credited to Palestinian writer and historian Edward Said who readily convinced Barenboim to help form an under-30 orchestra whose members represent the core of the Palestinian question: Jewish and Muslim musicians from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The term “divan”, it is explained, is taken from a collection of poetry by Goethe intended to express various ways of “breaking free from present conditions”. This concert was given at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, to this day a melting pot of cultural and religious influences and the Divan Orchestra is based in Seville. For this program, the Beethoven “Leonore” Overture No. 3 and the Brahms Symphony No. 1 are given solid, impressive performances but the real find is the Bottesini (arr. M. Bunya) Fantasia on Themes of Rossini for double bass, cello & orchestra. This charming rarity is given superb performances by Egyptian bassist, Nabil Shehata and Israeli cellist, Kyril Zlotnokov. What a wonderful and successful idea the Divan orchestra is, and Barenboim treats his young band with well deserved respect and admiration. The sight & sound of this performance is to be thoroughly enjoyed, whether as a truly magnificent young orchestra or as the obvious example of music as the “universal language” that it is.
The final disc presents, perhaps, the most familiar view of Daniel Barenboim; that of top ten symphony orchestra director. Barenboim was music director of the Chicago Symphony from 1991-2006, one of the longer tenures for that powerful ensemble, along with Reiner and Solti. This concert was part of the orchestra’s 2000 European tour and was filmed at Philharmonie hall in Cologne and is a beautiful program consisting of Boulez, “Notations I-IV”, Debussy, “La Mer” and the complete Falla “Three Cornered Hat”. Barenboim has always been a proponent of a select few living composers, Pierre Boulez being among them. “Notations” is a brief four movement exploration of complex rhythm and unusual timbral combinations. Barenboim’s direction is clear, concise and sensitive to the small details in this interesting score. His read of Debussy’s “La Mer” is very stylistic and beautiful. Some conductors forget that this Debussy—one of his largest—is still French and should not be overly bombastic; Barenboim understands this. The Falla, featuring soprano Elisabete Matos, however, is given a bold Spanish- accentuated ride. This remains Falla’s best known work and the audience appreciation for this energetic gem, originally a ballet, is clear.
Daniel Barenboim will, hopefully, be remembered for the true ambassador of great music and good will that he is now. Any lover of great orchestral performance and great conducting will love this set of DVDs and I highly recommend it!