March 9, 2004

All Beethoven Barenboim Extravaganza


Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 2 B-flat Major, op. 19
Piano Concerto No. 3 C Minor, op. 37
Piano Concerto No. 4 G Major, op. 58


Berliner Philharmoniker
Daniel Barenboim - Conductor & Piano

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

All Beethoven Barenboim Extravaganza

by Nancy Chapple

Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim celebrated forty years of playing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra by performing and conducting three Beethoven piano concerti from the keyboard. The hall was sold out, and no one with a ticket stayed away. His energetic, coherent interpretations of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th concerti were received with cheers and ultimately a standing ovation.

Beethoven's 2nd concerto is on a smaller scale than his others, with shorter movements and fewer instrumentalists - but the difference was hardly apparent here. Right from the start, no harmonic detail was too small to be savored; the dissonant note of each appoggiatura was strongly emphasized. Each note was deliberate and transparently phrased, down to simple staccato chords in the left hand. The huge cadenza in the first movement included an endless harmonic sequence around the circle of fifths, declaimed in a loud voice. In the Adagio, Barenboim sought a heavy, velvety sound from the orchestra, with Wagnerian swelling on long notes. Conducting from the piano is quite a physical endeavor for him, engendering some unusual effects when observed from behind. He usually stood up, even for 4-bar passages, and waved both arms fervently, more upwards than down. Occasionally his left hand shot up towards the 1st violins, followed shortly thereafter by the right towards the 2nd violins on the other side - like a bird taking off unstably. Barenboim bowed deeply to both orchestra and Berlin public with magnanimity and genuine affection.

The orchestra was encouraged to play a rich forte in the Allegro con brio of the 3rd concerto; the piano came in with a pearly, clear, sometimes insistent sound. Again, every appoggiatura and sforzando was milked for what it was worth. Occasionally, a simple line seemed overwhelmed by the chocolaty sound. Here too, a dramatic end to the cadenza, with an incredibly long and brilliant trill passage creeping up the keyboard in half steps. In the slow movement, Barenboim was completely in command of the long lines, and there was a lovely trio: bassoon and flute singing the melody, piano accompanying in gentle harmonic waves. The Largo did not sound affected but just perfect. It came as a lovely relief to experience the bubbly, light, even lighthearted tone in the Rondo - of course he can also perform in such colors but by the second page he had turned up the intensity again, "chocolatizing" the sound. The fugato passage towards the end of the movement was taut and driven, and he made sure the orchestra played ferociously in the tutti passages. The orchestra worked closely with him and seemed to be having tremendous fun.

The first movement of the 4th concerto was the high point of the concert - beautifully shaped, every tone in the right place. Fascinating to hear how one can color a sforzando so that the warm color seems to come from within. In one complex section in the Andante con moto it seemed that the bassoon and violin, playing eighth notes and triplets against the piano's line, were longing for a conductor; the individual elements didn't quite mesh. But this was the only such incident. The mood of the slow movement - as in all three concerti - was lovely, floating, posing deep musical questions that remained unresolved until the final cadence. In general, the third movements were quite heavy and somewhat lacking in humor. In this Rondo too, Barenboim returned to the pulpy sound, ending the show in the rich mood that had suffused most of the evening. The audience loved the fluid, cohesive Beethoven interpretations.

(This review originally appeared at