Salzburg Festival: Opening Concert

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COMPOSERS: Bartok,Ravel,Stravinsky
LABELS: C Major Entertainment
WORKS: Bartok: Piano Concerto No.1, Stravinsky : The Firebird, Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim (piano); Vienna PO/Pierre Boulez (Salzburg, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: 702508

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The Firebird was first produced 100 years ago, so new recordings are hardly a surprise. Nonetheless, a brace of Firebirds on DVD from one conductor, Pierre Boulez, suggests poor planning somewhere. The first comes from the opening concert of the 2008 Salzburg, and the second from a free concert in the pyramid at the Louvre in December the same year.

In both cases, the complete ballet is presented. Or, rather, the entirety of Stravinsky’s music, raising the question of why, on DVD, anyone would prefer to see the work in concert rather than a full production. Do dance enthusiasts like to watch it with the sound turned down?

The performances of The Firebird in both concerts have their exciting moments, but also some scrappy ones, and there are several points, such as the appearance of the monsters, which are decidedly earthbound. That certainly could not be said when Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic were joined in Salzburg by Daniel Barenboim for Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

This was the piece they performed in the first concert together in 1964, and they have revisited it numerous times since, but it is certainly not stale. Barenboim has an impulsive way with it, almost as if trying to wrong-foot the entirely unflappable Boulez. Despite the piano sounding slightly distant at times, there is no lack of bite from Barenboim.

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Boulez paints the often delicate colours of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales with subtlety, the Vienna Philharmonic’s woodwind showing their finesse. As with the captivating dialogue between piano and percussion in the slow movement of the Bartók, the exquisite stillness cultivated by Boulez at the end of the Ravel actually prompts the festival audience to quieten down. Christopher Dingle