Beethoven, Mozart, Elgar

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Elgar,Mozart
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: The Ramallah Concert
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Sinfonia concertante in E flat; Enigma Variations – Nimrod; documentary ‘Knowledge is the Beginning’
PERFORMER: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 62792-2
(NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture ratio)

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Early on in the long, slightly sprawling but ultimately fascinating documentary that accompanies this concert, Edward Said expresses the feeling that ‘we’ve only scratched the surface’ when it comes to musical talent in the Middle East. It’s a pretty mind-boggling thought.

If the members of the phenomenal West-Eastern Divan Orchestra are only surface-scratchings, the underlying seam must be rich indeed. This hardly fits at all with the picture of the Middle East – or at least of the Arab world – painted by the news media.

Mind-boggling too – though rather more depressing – are the brief tasters of mutual fear and suspicion between Arab and Israeli. ‘He is the only thing we’ve seen coming out of Israel that isn’t a tank or a soldier,’ says one Palestinian girl player about Barenboim. Later, in the Knesset (home of Israel’s parliament), Barenboim’s appeal to the principals of justice on which the State of Israel was founded is greeted with applause in some quarters, but plenty of stone-faced hatred in others. But at the core is the age-old, too often ignored message that if you get human beings involved together in non-competitive, co-operative creative work, dividing walls will begin to fall.

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Then there is the concert itself, which shows that this isn’t just a morally worthy project: the resulting orchestra is truly stunning, both technically and when it comes to refined enthusiasm. For comments on the musical interpretations (with some reservations) see the review of the CD (p64); but as a total experience, this set must be seen. Stephen Johnson