The last time we spoke I mentioned a certain piece of music I had recently heard on a recording and you immediately responded in what I took to be a rather flat voice, ” Daniel Barenboim’s 50th anniversary concert”. [1.] From the tone of your voice I gathered, perhaps incorrectly, that you were not enamored with this recording. I can understand your reservations. But as we were speaking long-long distance, we had tno time to explore musical subtitles and as well, we had children and grandchildren to Moo about.
Recently I’ve had time to ruminate on Barenboim’s recording and other great artists recorded in front of live audiences. These ruminations and a long silence between us, are the reasons for this letter.
From the beginning, Barenboim’s interpretations ranged from interesting and sublime to overwrought, sometimes beyond the pale of performances typically heard today. My first reaction to this recording was that Barenboim, appearing in triumph before a home town crowd as a prodigal son, had decided to unleash his impromtu passion and willingness to take chances, to create joy, as only an interpretive genius can. His heart on his sleeve, he just took flight. Perhaps it was this flight that unsettled you.
The Mozart Sonata K 330, was played with the traditional rubatos, but others were added. Overall, they were larger, surprising and delightful. I prefer over all the 1957 Clara Haskil live recording.[2.] Barenboim plays the second movement slower, giving it more gravitas. The Beethoven, Op. 57, ‘Appassionata’ really sets out the difference between romantic Barenboim and the classic Clara Haskil. Barenboim’s use of the sustain pedal blurred many of the lines I so love to hear in this sonata. If you wish to hear the clarity of Horowitz, hear every note virtuosity at any speed, check out the live Vienna piano recital of Lang Lang.[3.]
Remember, this is only an assumption on my part, I could agree with your lack of enthusiasm for Barenboim’s recording. Some of the following shorter pieces lack luster, with one exception being the second Scarlatti Sonata. But I beg you to seriously consider his performances beginning with the Chopin Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2., Db Major. When I first heard this I was stunned. Here was something definitive. A clarity of emotion, a direct path to the heart, that one rarely experiences either in person or on recordings. There is no room here for a contrived thought. This is fingers improvising without touching. Barenboim must have been outside himself, I certainly was.
For lovers of the sublime, Chopin’s Nocturne begins the final and most thrilling part of Barenboim’s recital. His performances of José Resta’s Bailesito, Ginastera’s Danza de la moza donosa and Villa-Lobos’ Polichiinelle are visceral. Ginastera’s Danza reminds me very much of the Chopin nocturne with its gentle left-hand opening, nostalgia in the melody, the grandiose middle and the return with its unexpected yet perfect strokes.
Well dear M. I’ll bring this message to an end by saying how much I am enjoying music history. As a student I started working forward somewhere around J. S. Bach and ended up playing Takemitsu. Now I’m going backwards. Some of my findings have been discussed in earlier postings. My latest discovery, some scholars refer to him as the West’s first composer, is Guillaume Machaut. As a friend recently pointed out, the quality of performances of early music has increased considerably since David Munrow began his crusades in the early to late 60s. The CD [4.] is titled Mon Chant Vous Envoy and there are seven performers, singers and instrumentalists. His music requires a revaluation of what is old and what is new. Midway through this elegantly package and wonderfully performed CD, there appeared a work that stopped me in my tracks.
One more piece of music I feel compelled to mention, I’m sure you know it, is another sublime work in the Chopin, Ginastera, Machaut realm. Schubert’s Die Nacht for male chorus. My version was conducted by Robert Shaw and recorded in France by Telarc. It is the first of six songs under the heading Evensong. If I should die before I wake . . .
Please give my love to R and R, T, A and all the young ones, Gute Nacht.
r[1.] Daniel Barenboim, live from the Teatro Carlo, July 19, 2000. E M I Classics.
[2.] Clara Haskil live recording, August 8,1957, Salzburger Festspiele Mozarteum.
[3.] Lang Lang, Live in Vienna, February 27-March 1, 2010.
[4.] Mon Chant Vous Envoy, 2012-13, Elequentia.