COMPOSERS: Beethoven; Mozart; Elgar
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven; Mozart; Elgar
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, KV297b; Enigma Variations: Nimrod
PERFORMER: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 62791-2
The story of the founding of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra by the Israeli Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian Edward Said is in itself a noble and inspiring one. To see and hear Jews and Arabs making great music together when so many would divide them and exploit their hatreds and fears is like a pinprick of light in a vast curtain of darkness. For more of that, see the remarkable DVD issued simultaneously with this disc (review p86). But as performances, how do the orchestra’s Mozart and Beethoven compare with others in the field? First of all, the playing is absolutely stunning – utterly clear despite the close and slightly airless recorded sound. The four wind soloists in the Mozart Sinfonia concertante are not only gloriously accomplished, they have an obvious depth of feeling for Mozart’s luscious wind writing. The style may be a touch old fashioned – tempos on the expansive side and plenty of loving rubato – but it convinces and moves on its own terms.
Technically, the Beethoven is equally impressive, and there’s no missing the enthusiasm. It’s Barenboim’s direction that bothers me. Part of the problem is exposed in the DVD. There you can see him repeatedly insisting on full tone, sustained for the full duration of the note, when it seems that some of the players’ instincts are leading them towards a sharper, more bell-like kind of attack. It gives the music a weight and late-Romantic ripeness that is much better suited to the Elgar encore than to Beethoven. Carlos Kleiber remains virtually ideal for the Symphony, while the classic Mozart is still the Philharmonia Wind Quartet from 1955 in superb mono sound – though Barenboim’s young soloists run it close. Stephen Johnson