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Prom 12: Beethoven and Boulez (3): WEDO and Barenboim do the Fifth and Sixth

24 July 2012

And on we go. Part three of Barenboim’s Beethoven (and it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s his) was performed last night, and we hit the first really political bit with a mammoth, awe-inspiring, utterly inspirational Fifth.

The Divan is not, as Barenboim has said, an orchestra for peace per se, for peace is more complicated than that. It is instead an orchestra against ignorance, and especially an orchestra against hopelessness. Again this performance saw Barenboim at his animating best, his Furtwänglerian credentials worn a little more obviously as tempi shifted constantly. The motto was thumped out, the main exposition much faster, the motto’s returns hammered home. The first movement caught fire slowly, its fears building progressively rather than starting out with the violence other conductors might find, but by the end of the development section the net was closing in, viciously so. But the point for the journey as a whole was that the lyrical sections of this movement were sweet enough already to assure of what might come, even given the importance of struggle to this music, and with the strong nobility of the second movement that destiny seemed instantly more certain. The scherzo was less secure orchestrally, its slurred phrases testing the boundary between grand and grandiose, but the transition to the finale made up, Beethoven’s statement of triumph massively underlined before a relentless, joyous dance to the C major conclusion…. With Beethoven as powerful as this, hope is not lost.

You can read the rest here. The Sixth was quite beautiful too – do kindly excuse my Parsifal reference, although I think it’s probably a valid comparison, particularly if Barenboim conducts with Wagner so clearly in mind.

I haven’t time to follow up on this fully, but will do after the concluding Ninth on Friday. One quick point though, is a growing trend amongst the critics to admire what Barenboim is doing but quickly take refuge elsewhere (when they aren’t complaining at extreme length about the organisational cock-up last night, like Tim Ashley here). Barry Millington effuses about the Beethoven but seems to suggest we can’t go back to how things were (here). Even Barenboim knows this, as I wrote in my review of the first concert (here): his intention isn’t to be a Furtwängler clone but to utilise the modern orchestra with its far superior technical skill. But if you’re wedded to HIP and don’t believe in Beethoven’s power any more, then you’ll hate it anyway because the modern orchestra is, a priori, an invalid method. For two other ends of the spectrum, see Boulezian here and a grouchy Alexandra Coghlan here, who must have been listening to a different concert.

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