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Daniel Barenboim

Thursday, August 25, 2016


My Classical Notes

August 22

Edward Elgar: Symphony #1

My Classical NotesI became a fan of Elgar’s music when I listened carefully to his Violin Concerto. And my connection with him was cemented when I came to love his Cello Concerto, as well. Today I have for you Elgar’s Symphony number 1, and also a shorter work titled “In the South” Elgar: Symphony No. 1 & In the South Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 In the South (Alassio), Op. 50 Performed by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano conductin. Antonio Pappano, who studied piano and conducting, first attracted the attention of Daniel Barenboim, becoming his assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. After working in Barcelona and Frankfurt, he made his debut at Den Norske Opera in Oslo in 1987, becoming music director there in 1990. From 1992 to 2002 Pappano was music director of La Monnaie, the Belgian Royal Opera House. In 2002, he was named music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, his current contract there running to 2017. Pappano has also been principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and in 2005 became music director of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The Guardian write recently: “…Pappano approaches Symphony No 1 and In the South as what they are – important works in the European late-Romantic tradition.” Here is a recording of the Elgar Symphony #1:

Tribuna musical

August 22

Jonas Kaufmann triumphant: the plenitude of a great artista

I won´t mince words: the most important tenor chamber recital in more than four decades. Jonas Kaufmann, a week after the ill-planned ending of the Barenboim Festival, came back for a song session (mainly Lieder) with his longtime accompanist, Helmut Deutsch. And this time he sang a perfect programme with groups of songs by Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Liszt and Richard Strauss. This was at the Colón on last Sunday´s afternoon and for the Abono Verde. He had the support from the beginning of an anxious, knowledgeable and packed audience, who grew more and more enthusiastic. What happened after the last note of Strauss was an euphoric delirium as an incredible string of seven encores, proof not only of generosity but also of joy and gratitude, allowed us to hear him in opera and operetta. Kaufmann had conquered Buenos Aires with the highest vocal art; he demonstrated that, here as in Europe, the audience discriminates and not only reacts to tenors with splendid high Cs. Kaufmann is a linguist: Munich-born, his Italian is quite good and his French admirable. His memory is faultless: I followed with a score the majority of the songs and his always clear diction never missed a syllable; and, like that ideal baritone, the young Fischer-Dieskau, he gives dramatic sense to all he sings without ever going overboard, and the musical values are exact, following carefully every nuance indicated by the composer. By the way, if you are intrigued by who sang an impeccable recital more than forty years ago, he was Nicolai Gedda, but he did it at the Metro, not the Colón. His stance is revealing: he stands close to the piano and he concentrates totally in the song, scarcely moving, giving occasionally emphasis with the hands with sober gestures. His timbre is particular, hardly the typical tenor; it is never totally open. Don´t expect from him the stratospheric highs of Alfredo Kraus, he of the purest bel canto. But Kaufmann is the consumate master of the chiaroscuro, his breath control is amazing, and no other tenor in my experience has his ability to sing "piano-pianissimo" a "normal" high note and grow it to "forte". A special paragraph on the Viennese Helmut Deutsch, the veteran and still wonderful accompanist, whose work throughout was simply ideal. Mind you, he was the accompanist for twelve years of Hermann Prey, the only baritone that could match Fischer-Dieskau. Later, at Munich, he was professor of vocal interpretation for 28 years and taught and accompanied not only Kaufmann but first-rate artists as Diana Damrau and Michael Volle. He has recorded over a hundred CDs. Nobody has told me but I have no doubt that the programme was designed by both singer and pianist. It was unfailingly right. The Schubert started with two joyful pieces: "Der Musensohn" ("The Son of the Muses", on a Goethe text), all merry jumping, and the famous "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"). Then, the delightful watery "Der Jüngling an der Quelle" ("The young man at the source"), sung subtly and softly (but his projection is such that you hear him well if you are in the Gallery). And that "Lindenbaum" ( "Linden tree") whose melody seems folkish but is part of the stark "Die Winterreise" ("The Winter Voyage"). Then came the Schumann group, a selection of the "Twelve poems by Justinus Kerner" Op.35, very attractive and with the best schumannesque style. Of the chosen five I would single out the dramatic power of "Lust der Sturmnacht" ("Lust of the stormy night") and the Romantic impulse of "Stille Tränen" ("Silent tears"). Kaufmann gave us each mood with moving sensibility. And then, the so special case of Henri Duparc, born in 1848 and by 1885 no longer a composer after having produced some of the most exquisite "chansons d´art"; a strange mental condition cut off his creativity until his death in 1933. The four sung by our tenor are gems: the exquisite "L´invitation au voyage" ("The invitation to travel") on that often quoted text by Baudelaire that includes "order and beauty, luxury, calm and lust"; the dramatic "Le manoir de Rosemonde" ("Rosemonde´s country house"); the "Chanson triste" ("Sad song"), which mirrors that feeling admirably; and "Phidylé", a love song. I have long believed that these songs had their definitive interpretations by baritone Gérard Souzay; now I realize that a German tenor can be just as persuasive. But the best was yet to come. Most know Liszt´s "Petrarch Sonnets" in their piano transcription, but they were born as elaborate, refined songs. You will never hear them in such subjugating interpretations as Kaufmann gave us: with unbelievable feats of subtle vocality he went higher and sweeter, and higher...until you were convinced that this was an unmatched experience. And then, the Strauss group, in which I have my sole complaint: "Ich liebe dich" and "Freundliche vision" were changed and we were not told. Anyway, the expansive writing let him free his voice in "Heimliche Aufforderung" ("Secret Invitation") and the final "Cäcilie", and the composer´s humour came forward on two Von Schack songs, Op.19, where the tenor showed that he had also mastered that style. The encores were a separate recital and destroyed any doubt that might be left. For once in your life you heard the final phrase of Bizet´s "Flower aria" from "Carmen" and the Verdian "Celeste Aida" as they are written, ascending to a pianissimo; but his Radames lacked no power. Then, Verista expression in "L´anima ho stanca" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur"; a Refice song, "Ombra di nube". "Nessun dorma" from Puccini´s "Turandot", where the tenor showed the solidity of his means and the audience officiated admirably as choir in the fragment where Calaf doesn´t sing. Then, like a born Neapolitan, "Core ´ngrato" ("Catarí") by Cardillo. And finally, that glorious Lehár aria from "The Land of Smiles", "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("Yours is my whole heart"), as beautifully sung as Tauber. Please come back with an operatic recital with the Colón´s Orquesta Estable! For Buenos Aires Herald




Tribuna musical

August 22

Barenboim/Kaufmann, an anticlimax closing the Festival

This is a sad review, for after calling the preceding concert (Barenboim/Argerich/WEDO) the event of the year, readers may expect a rather enthusiastic response to the last session of the Festival. But I went to the Colón in morose mood, for three facts were inexorable: the programme was too short; it presented the famous tenor in baritone repertoire; and it´s simply and irrevocably unethical to repeat a major score in the same subscription series. What drove me mad was the fact that the season programme, distributed in March, says: "we will present the dashing debut of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who will delight our public with the music of Richard Wagner, avid to know one the maximal lyric expressions of our time". And this is what we got: the Prelude to the Third Act of Wagner´s "The Mastersingers"; Gustav Mahler´s "Songs of a Wayfarer"; and Mozart´s Symphony Nº41, "Jupiter". I can accept the first item (it was the encore of Concert Nº5; the encore, not one of the announced fragments). But baritone Mahler? And the repetition of Mozart´s "Jupiter" (played in the initial concert along with Nos. 39 and 40)? Sorry, there´s a limit to arbitrariness, even coming from world figures like Kaufmann and Barenboim. About Mahler: was it the tenor´s wish? Or did he propose something else and Barenboim vetoed it? I don´t know, but I give you a piece of news: Kaufmann will sing in Santiago de Chile a programme of operatic arias from Italian and French composers: "Tosca", "Aida", "Carmen", "Cavalleria Rusticana", "Le Cid", "Andrea Chenier" and "Turandot". Mouth-watering indeed, although it has no Wagner. Two ways to have done a decent programme: a) change the Wagner symphonic pieces in the concert with Argerich with, say, Brahms´ Fourth Symphony, and play the same symphonic fragments around Kaufmann, singing arias from "Lohengrin", "Die Walküre" and "The Mastersingers" (he has just sung the complete "Mastersingers" in Munich). b) Do the same programme as in Santiago, adding symphonic opera music to round it off. I have perused the CD R.E.R. catalogue of 2000 in the entry: Mahler: "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a wayfarer"). The character of the songs is clearly manly, but several ladies of great career haven´t resisted the temptation and have recorded the lovely music. But not one tenor risked recording it and for good reason: hear the young Fischer-Dieskau with Furtwängler and then recollect what you heard at the Colón with Kaufmann, and what a falling off! Is it an experiment and he decided to try it here? For I read that he has an even stranger idea: to sing both the tenor and the baritone parts in Mahler´s masterpiece "Das Lied von der Erde" (Song of the Earth"); and that lasts an hour! The voice sounded veiled and out of register, but the man is an artist and of course he phrased with expression and taste, splendidly accompanied by Barenboim and his WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). Then came the very partial saving grace, after just 18 minutes of singing: the lovely "Winsterstürme", Siegmund´s aria from "Die Walküre". There his real voice appeared. And then, helpers moved the piano and Barenboim accompanied him in the Tristanesque "Träume", last of the Five Wesendonk Lieder: beautifully done, though he was poaching in soprano repertoire. At least in this case Kaufmann has two antecedents: Melchior and Kollo, but both with orchestrations not done by Wagner. Readers may remember that two years ago I wrote enthusiastically about his Alvaro ("La Forza del Destino") in Munich: even in a horrid staging there was no doubt about his exalted category. So he owes us a second visit singing opera and has shown bad judgment in his debut. I do hold great hopes for his forthcoming Lieder recital. It transpired that both Argerich and Barenboim were affected by the flu, markedly so when they repeated the fifth programme, in which there were no encores; and that Barenboim wasn´t cured on the concert with Kaufmann. There was no encore after the "Jupiter", to my mind played with less rhythmic bite than on the first concert (of course everyone was fresher then). I do hope that next year Barenboim will be more careful and ethical: he owes it not just to the public, but to himself. This is a very expensive series, and two concerts in it were clearly below par; a third one is a controversial decision, that of Arabic music. Let´s have a real Festival where everything is topnotch. A personal desire: he has expressed his enthusiasm with Elgar: wouldn´t it be a great contribution to bring the powerful Second Symphony? For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna musical

August 22

Argerich/Barenboim/WEDO: the event of the year

The Colón concert of Thursday, August 4th, was truly memorable. It was the fifth of the Abono Azul (Blue Subscription Series) and was repeated the following day (Función Extraordinaria, non-subscription). The artists were Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO). This time the programme was long and satisfying, and all concerned were at their best. One general conclusion: Argerich and Barenboim are at the top of their profession and in their early seventies they show no decline. And the WEDO has improved greatly: it is astonishing that young people on a seasonal (not permanent) orchestra should show such maturity, both in the command of their instruments and in the integration of a common concept. There´s real talent in all of them, though of course they have the privilege of a great conductor that gives them style and unity. The concert began with a première: "Con brio" by Jörg Widmann. Barenboim had already promoted him in two chamber concerts with different programming of the Mozarteum Argentino (in the second he also played clarinet). This score for full orchestra lasts 11 minutes and although it isn´t divided into two parts it changes sharply after the first minutes, characterised by violent attacks followed by deep silences and by the mixture of musical sounds with noise as defined by Britannica: sound that interferes with other sounds that are being listened to. I wasn´t attracted so far, but later we hear recognisable melodies as well as fanfares and the mix becomes intriguing. My wife´s imaginative phrase accords with my reaction: "noises, echoes and resonances of bellicose actions in an inhospitable jungle". Barenboim led the piece with strong impact and the WEDO responded with exemplary discipline. The author made his bow and was warmly applauded. Franz Liszt´s Piano Concerto Nº1 is the most innovative and personal of Romantic concerti. In it (as in the Sonata) rhetorics are never vain; the ideas are substantial, moving and coherent. It is terribly difficult to play: Liszt did for piano technique what Paganini had done for the violin: an extraordinary expansion of the possibilities of each instrument. And his orchestration gives lovely solos for diverse players dialoguing with the piano. You need a true virtuoso that is also a great artist, and a very attentive and collaborative conductor: Sviatoslav Richter and Kyrill Kondrashin are a good reference, and so is Argerich on record with Abbado; live with Barenboim on this occasion will long be in the memories of those who were at this concert. I heard Argerich with Dutoit and the National Symphony in this concerto back in 1969; she was young and an amazing powerhouse. Forty-seven years later her incredible technique and stamina remain untouched (if I except her rushed and not altogether clean first entrance). The final minutes were as exciting as they were musical, always abetted by the best collaboration from the WEDO and Barenboim. There was a wonderful surprise: her encore wasn´t a short and easy piece from Schumann´s "Scenes from childhood" as she generally does, but an ideal performance of the best of Ravel: "Ondine", first number of "Gaspard de la Nuit". The fluidity of the playing in this devilishly intricate piece and the subtlety of her touch were an object lesson of Impressionism (as is her recording of 1974). The second part was simply the best Wagner playing heard here in a very long time. Maybe as far back as Leitner and Leinsdorf in the Sixties. Barenboim conducted at the Bayreuth Festival from 1981 to 1999, and he did the unparelleled feat of doing the ten great operas in a period of a few weeks in Berlin. Wagner is perfect for him: music of enormous technical accomplishment in which the system of Leitmotiven proves to be an astonishingly flexible array of moods and emotions. Wagner´s continuity imbricates easily with Barenboim´s rich intellect. The chosen 45 minutes are among the greatest orchestral music of the Nineteenth Century and had glorious performances: the interpretations were simply beyond reproach and the playing proved that the WEDO is strong in all departments, very minor smudges apart: the mellowness and musicality of the brass, the fine woodwind solos, the mahogany-hued strings always disciplined and intense, all made for a constant state of direct communication with the music. The "Tannhäuser" Overture (Dresden version) went swimmingly both in the solemn pilgrim melodies and in the bacchanical frenzy of the Venusberg. The most dramatically complex music came from "The Twilight of the Gods": the Dawn after the Norns´ scene is joined in the concert adaptation with the final pages of the Siegfried-Brünnhilde duet and goes straight on to the jubilant "Siegfried´s Rhine Journey". But Barenboim cunningly omitted the brilliant coda and went on as in the opera, where the atmosphere becomes gloomy as the hero approaches the Gibichung Palace, for in it looms Hagen, who will kill him in the Third Act; and this version even adds a transformed fragment from the end of the Second Act, that terrible conspiratorial Trio. It would have been better to go on without applause to "Siegfried´s Funeral Music" but that was not to be; anyway, that magnificent evokation was spine-tingling in this version. And the best possible conclusion for the programme, the Overture to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", to my mind the greatest ever written. The encore was complementary: the serene and sad Prelude to the Third Act of the same opera. For Buenos Aires Herald



Tribuna musical

August 22

​Arabian music at the Barenboim festival

On August 8, 2015, the Herald published an article of mine about various concerts, containing one that was given at the Colón in the Barenboim Festival. I quote myself: "There was a completely unexpected inclusion: a chamber concert of Iranian and Arabic music". Then I raised several points; two bear repeating: "if you believe (as I do) that the Colón is for classical music, this concert is as out of place as Argentine folk music or bossa nova... If I accept the idea, what I want is true music of those origins, no fusion. And this didn´t happen". But I neglected to add a major matter: the whole purpose of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is to obtain a musical camaraderie between Israelis and Palestines; wouldn´t it have been much more in accord with this philosophy to offer a concert in two parts, one with Arabic music and the other with Jewish? For outside their respective communities, the authentic sound of those cultures is little-known to the public at large, and such a concert would have not only a factor of entertainment but also an attempt to tell didactically what their music is about. In one sense, this year´s concert is an improvement, for the presentation of the Al Diwan Ensemble was closer to the mark as regards authenticity; but it was only Arabic music. Furthermore, the presentation in the hand programe is a disaster: a) not one word of explanation, when no other concert of the Festival needed it so much. b) if you have any change of programme, put it in writing; in the Second Part one of the players announced confusedly and in low voice that there would be changes (more on it further in this review). c) Arab titles without translation are surely unhelpful and there were none except in three numbers. I have to mention a further question: the sounds of enthusiasm in the audience were very youthful, and indeed there were many young people; as the tickets were very expensive, they probably were invited, maybe with some intervention from Arabian embassies. That´s alright, but worth mentioning, for the habitual Colón goers know little about this music. Now let´s make a distinction: our Argentine folklore is consumed in four different ways: the pure thing as recopilated by Vega, Aretz or Valladares; what is called folkloric projection, going from the traditional Ábalos to artists with more modern conceptions such as Juárez; fusion with other cultures but still popular music; and the stylisations made by classical composers such as Ginastera. I surmise without being sure that something similar may occur in Arabic music, for no less than seven pieces have authors: all dead except one, but all Twentieth Century. I confess my ignorance about Arabic composers creating music for symphony orchestras but in Arabic style, such as Bloch has done for the Jewish heritage in "Schelomo". Anyway, the Al-Diwan Ensemble was, according to the programme, "formed specially for this concert with members of Arabic origin of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to interpret with various autochtonous instruments the best instrumental music of the Arabic world". I beg to differ in two matters: surely three violins, one viola, one cello and one bass are not Arabic but normal instruments of an Occidental orchestra; and there were also vocal pieces. But some instruments are autochthonous: the oud (transformed in the Occident, for it´s the lute); the qanun, a zither (there are similar but not exactly alike instruments in Europe); and among the percussion, the darabukka (a small drum of particular shape). And of course they were the ones that gave more character to the music. It serves no practical purpose for readers to mention the names of the composers and the titles of the pieces (sample: Salim el Helou: Sama´Isuthdel). Three titles are also in English: "My memories", "Music immortal river" and "The beauty". Characteristics: melody either soloistic or in unanimous group accompanied by rhythm; no counterpoint; and no vertical harmony (chords) although the music has a tacit harmony. My reaction as a critic raised on the Occidental tradition: I liked the music and found it had its own coherence. Solo string playing is sinuous and sliding, with little vibrato. Changes of speed within the same piece; feeling of rhythmic pulse in two or three beats. Impressed by the virtuosity of the kanun player (Gilbert Yammine). Now to the vocal pieces: they were sung by Ilona Danho, an attractive girl with agreeable timbre and a knack for communication. Ilona sounds Hungarian to me, but she seemed completely at home in the repertoire she did. There was a major change and I regret it: she was supposed to sing Aramaeic and Syrian music of the Fifth Century, as sung in the Mesopotamia (intriguing for two facts: they are not geographically or historically of the Mesopotamia; and what kind of notation did they have in the Fifth Century? Occident had no notation until the Eleventh Century). She sang instead music billed as being Assyrian of the Tenth Century; it did sound older than the rest, but only a specialised musicologist could tell me the truth. Other pieces were described as Traditional from Aleppo (Syrian), Syria and Irak. The concert ended with the deliriously fast and rhythmical "The beauty", which sounded to me much too modern for the dates of the author Sayed Darwish (1892-1923). ​For Buenos Aires Herald

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