A very special concert this week at the Royal Festival Hall, with Daniel Barenboim leading his Staatkapelle Berlin orchestra through a couple of intense pieces from Tchaikovsky (Violin Concerto, with Lisa Batiashvili as soloist), and Elgar (2nd Symphony).
The violin piece is a chance for the soloist to show off her virtuosity, and such was the case here – and a joy to watch, from our seats above the orchestra, the interaction between Batiashvili and Barenboim as he watched her play. Just wonderful. This is a joyous and uplifting piece in which the Staatkapelle excelled themselves.
The Elgar, though, was the highlight of the evening – and across the whole orchestra, there was outstanding work from strings, woodwind, percussion, and brass. Barenboim was awarded the Elgar Medal at the end of the night for his five decades of work championing this great modern composer, and in mentioning his former wife and ‘great Elgarian’ in his speech (not by name, but everyone in the house knew who he meant) he awakened memories of that superb Cello Concerto performance of days gone by.
A visitor to my blog recently was unchivalrous enough to dismiss my review of the Proms First Night as ‘feeble’. Well, in the interests of strength, let me applaud the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under the mighty baton of conductor Daniel Barenboim, and their performance at Prom 9 of the first and second symphonies of Beethoven.
Both these symphonies have a melodious power which, in their familiarity to a listener, calm, soothe and inspire, and the performance of the wind and string sections of the orchestra in particular reinforced this. This is a young orchestra who have enough energy and talent to inspire those who watch them, and clearly, those who lead them too, with young Michael Barenboim in the violin section being particularly noticeable amongst a cast of gifted players.
I haven’t mentioned the middle piece by Pierre Boulez (Dérive 2), but this 45 minute piece of modern music for eleven musicians did not reach me at all. I appreciate that Barenboim and Boulez have a working relationship which goes back to the mid-1960s, and that Boulez cites Beethoven as one of his influences, but for me this Dérive was ten minutes too long and badly needed a more melodic hook. I know that the lack of melody and the sense of the music being a river was intentional, and no doubt the musicians performed well, but it seems to me that the old classics went down better than the experimental at this melting pot of a Prom.