WORKS: Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Act III Prelude; Elgar: Cello Concerto; Brahms: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Alisa Weilerstein (cello); Berlin Philharmonic/Daniel Barenboim (Shelodnian Theatre, Oxford, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: EuroArts 2058068
The last of the BPO’s annual European Concerts I reviewed here was the 2004 one from the Herodes Atticus Theatre in Athens, with Simon Rattle at the helm and Barenboim as soloist in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Here in 2010 it’s Barenboim who conducts, and the setting is a different theatre entirely – the Baroque splendour of the Sheldonian in Oxford.
Barenboim must feel a special link with the Elgar Cello Concerto because of his wife Jacqueline du Pré’s iconic performances of the work. Here – after a noble account of the Meistersinger Act III Prelude – the young American cellist Alisa Weilerstein turns in an interpretation almost as charismatic.
There’s no old man’s regret in her performance, which is passionate and full-blooded, and shot through with grief and longing rather than any nostalgia. Her almost symbiotic union with Barenboim’s shaping of the orchestral portion is especially beguiling in the flexible and sophisticated way they both shape the transition between first and second movements – the hesitations and sudden thrusts forward culminating at last in a pell-mell tempo for the scherzo.
Barenboim has always been an excellent Brahmsian – his set of the Symphonies with the Chicago SO is among his most-played versions – and he rounds of the concert with a richly satisfying account of the First Symphony. No real surprises, but not far from perfection in the shaping of its architecture and warmth of expression. Though he sometimes seems to be conducting in a world of his own, the BPO responds for him, as one would expect, magnificently, and I was especially impressed by the sheer quality, delicacy and range of colour of the woodwind playing here. Incidentally, the extras on here are merely a series of trailers for previous BPO European Concerts. Calum MacDonald