Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 66: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim – Bruckner and Schubert @ Royal Albert Hall, London

3 September 2007

Initial signs were that this Prom would provide an ideal match of conductor, orchestra and repertoire.

The Vienna Philharmonic have Bruckner in their blood, and Daniel Barenboim has enjoyed a twenty five year love affair with the composer’s fourth, Romantic symphony.

As a taster for the main course was Schubert’s Mozartian Fifth Symphony, acknowledged as his ‘coming of age’ in the symphonic form.

And yet, something was missing here. Perfectly played by the diminished orchestra it may have been, with a bustling minuet/scherzo and an achingly tender slow movement, it somehow felt just too secure and a little suave, with Barenboim’s interventions restricted to the occasional wave of an arm, the conductor presumably using his eyes rather than his hands. Either way it felt like there was a lot more left in the tank – and thankfully this was used to the full in the second part.

With the addition of the brass the orchestra seemed to come alive, the strings visibly sat up straighter in their seats. The opening horn call was wonderfully evocative over barely perceptible violin tremolandi, and Barenboim, who has tended towards slower speeds in this piece on record, kept a real sense of onward momentum.

Structurally this was an ideal performance, as Barenboim, conducting once again from memory manipulated even the silences towards the greater whole. The elegiac slow movement brought a tear to the eye whenever the cellos introduced their beautifully shaped, mellow theme, while in complete contrast the scherzo thrust forward, trombones full of bite and the trumpet fanfares ringing out in anticipation, before the strings’ calmer repose softened the impact. Barenboim’s mastery of the crescendo to the finish was singly the best moment I have witnessed at the Proms this year.

The potentially tricky finale held no fears for these players, stealing in imperceptibly in its dark introduction before emerging gloriously into the light. As the movement took shape Barenboim again exerted careful control over the dynamic levels, pacing the crescendi as the movement took shape. As an affirmation the final bars were thrilling, the conductor completely animated as he wrung the last ounce of passion from the string section.

No encore was given but in truth none was needed, the ten minute ovation proving that in this particular game of two halves, the final result was an emphatic victory.

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