Barenboim - 50 Years on Stage
Daniel Barenboim made his official debut as a concert pianist in Buenos Aires on August 19, 1950, aged seven. Fifty years later to the day, he returned to his birthplace for a recital in the Teatro Colón, an occasion captured in its entirety on the first disc. The jacket tells us it was ‘ecstatically received’ and ‘will go down in history as one of the musical events of the 21st century’. Steady.
Proceedings open with a stylish and neatly turned Mozart sonata though to my ears Barenboim’s piano tone is unappealingly dry. Musically, it emerges as a lengthy finger-warming exercise. With the Appassionata, he moves up a gear with some vital, keenly argued playing. Barenboim may not be the pianist he once was but here is a reminder, his patrician address of the keyboard and quiet demeanour in the service of a composer he so clearly loves speak to us eloquently. Books 1 and 2 of Iberia are a ‘big play’ whose relative unfamiliarity to an audience is typical of the pianist’s uncompromising nature, though perhaps an unlikely choice for such an occasion.
Having dispensed with the programme proper, Barenboim begins to relax and enjoy the occasion, with the enthusiastic audience spurring him on to no fewer than 13 short encores. But he is not a natural encore-giver, producing a stream of predictable and indifferently played Chopin and Schubert, and a woefully earthbound account of Rosenthal’s Papillons; the audience too ecstatic to notice.
Paul Smaczny’s film portrait follows its subject from the summer of 1999 through Berlin, Chicago, Tel Aviv and Weimar up to the Buenos Aires Golden Jubilee recital. Barenboim, in visiting all these key places in his life, is at his most charismatic and engaging whether it be in straight-to-camera interview, discussing music with Boulez, rehearsing with Cecilia Bartoli or cooking a Chinese meal in his Chicago apartment (the nearest he allows us to get to any glimpse of his private life). His West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of musicians from Israel, Palestine and neighbouring countries is seen as the work of a deeply committed humanitarian. The film ends with footage of Barenboim’s controversial performance of the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde in Jerusalem in the summer of 2001. Bravely, the film includes remarks from those who clearly despise such idealism.
Altogether, this celebration of the life and career of one of the most remarkable musicians of the age is fully worthy of him, while the Golden Jubilee Concert will acquire even greater interest with the passage of time.