The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

DR Kultur: Barenboim offers provocatively dialectics inspired view of Bruckner Eighth. Beethoven/Bruckner zyklus - Staatskapelle Berlin. 26.07.10.

Pairing earliest written concerto of Beethoven with the Bruckner Eighth Symphony, Daniel Barenboim made relatively modest proportions of it. A good share if not quite all the characteristic wit and vigor of the young Beethoven came through. Barenboim contrasted making spaciously firm character of opening to the orchestral exposition and then after a couple of expected brooding turns to minor mode, light Haydnesque or Italianate staccato pointing of same opening theme, giving glimpse ahead of the dialectics between Classical and Romantic tendencies from even early Beethoven to eventually something far more advanced.

Barenboim’s playing through solo exposition was fluent, well animated. His handling of half-cadence into second theme had light clarion ring, then finding introspection for turn to both flatted submediant and minor mode during transition from elegantly turned second theme to catching the impetuosity of closing material, in sequence of scales - pointed octaves above to hold all in check. Brief exploits into fantasy during superficially the simpler Development got delineated, anticipating marching light stretto of staccato chords between wind concertato and soloist broken by skipping triplets for the latter. In practically Beethoven’s parody of sounding academic, Barenboim pointed out in the cadenza the building contrast for antecedents, consequents between right and left hand, to lightly all go storming forth toward ultimately gentle, brief cadential reply from Staatskapelle at the end, eschewing coy treatment for any of this.

Nobility for slow movement got supplied in full measure. Expansion of line through second theme, even through much light filigree became spacious, with good pointing of winds and soloist on alternating half-phrases throughout. Within context of such eloquent rhetoric, hushed close to ending lines was moving, with Barenboim making light pause for final trill and brief line trailing off all speak - framed by luminous close in Staatskapelle winds, buttressed earlier by weight from the strings.

Given Barenboim’s unqualified success with rondos to both Third and Fourth concerti, his restraint toward giving Haydn-esque offbeat accenting the oomph it needs to make Beethoven out of this rondo was curious. Apart from that, his fetching quality to rapid runs, tripping staccato with off-beat grace notes made practically complete character of the rest. Gently playful was his take on more agitated middle section; Barenboim also understated firmness in making transition back to reprise of rondo theme, to preserve requisite lightness for it. Pause for turn to G Major fully infused it for ironic ‘upon second thought’ air to it. Barenboim then made fine flourish of all that remained – half-unwitting misplacement of several accents aside.

Gauntlet ahead, for all involved, was the Bruckner Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, following triumph enjoyed evening before with the Seventh. Here good results were more qualified. This was an Eighth that the further one made one’s way into it became more involving. Including on ‘live’ Teldec recording of the Eighth with the Berlin Philharmonic, Barenboim has attempted making something very fluid out of phrasing the work’s broad, arching lines, to provide argument overall fine sense of liberation from the constricting influence of bar lines and downbeats on melodic, harmonic progress through its long paragraphs. It is such that he among many identify with the legacy of Furtwangler – frequently considered definitive for Bruckner.

Barenboim also attempted then with the Philharmonic to make entirely fluid its narrative, - and as aside, make it further clear that result sought was not what sheen, great luminosity he could pull out of the Philharmonic – such as we associate with late-career Karajan - last several times he recorded the Eighth – or with ‘The 101 Strings.’ Claudio Abbado had already spent nearly five seasons in Berlin when the sloppily edited Teldec Eighth got released, with sound engineers having stopped short of fully negotiating the difficult acoustic of the Philharmonie. The change to the Philharmonic is clearly felt, even from time - close to when Abbado took the helm - that Barenboim started recording his then still new Bruckner cycle. The feel Barenboim had for the Eighth then was too confident, even almost improvisatory, making it more of a curiosity than what one can reckon one of Barenboim’s more successful Bruckner recordings.

First movement here raised similar doubts, with hint of brass turning fractious toward Exposition final cadence. Pace was just slightly less breezy for this movement, than it had been on disc. Dotted rhythms were intermittently still loose, particularly with opening theme of the movement, upbeat to the same. Doleful tuba on yet again the same theme got Development section underway with fully characterized, incisive winds replying with its inversion. Slightly contrary to what is marked Barenboim made somewhat risky footing of inverted Theme 2 sequencing into broad arch - streamlined in feel - with first theme derived upbeats deep - slightly loose from their hinges. Without clipping that marred previous Philharmonic effort, majestic climax got achieved well. Violins on inverted second theme figure in half notes elastically maintained fine current through it - with risk of becoming too free-floating still present - less excessively so. Safety net below was found with trumpets precisely marking their quietly ominous ‘annunciation’ motif – allowing better space for descending principal flute – as if to make paradoxical contrast between this and loosely played upbeats earlier.

After broadly pacing second subject well, Barenboim effectively built excitement through rocky third subject, with still risky accelerandi - obbligato principal horn in effect jumping in, as though chomping at the bit. Something of just cut above human dimensions was made of the ‘annunciation of death’ – impact felt very well thus in place of taking it on along lines of metaphysical dimensions; all then prudently faded to silence with well achieved stillness for all at near total cessation of activity.

Barenboim infused circumspectly better paced Scherzo with clumsiness to ‘deutscher Michel’ notion behind its main idea - with thin strings above to start things off. Light timpani strokes underpinned light re-transition in the strings throughwistful gray descending cascade in the flutes. Grand rhetoric from unison violins marked final step of re-transition back to recapitulation very well. Slight drag to four note motif in trumpets derived from central rotating idea here was very apt and abetted restraining crudely clipping heavily brass laced repeat final cadence endings, of making anything so cursory thereof. Strings betrayed slight fatigue toward the end; otherwise, scherzo reprise made slightly more compelling case than first time through – with succinctly captured shifts in color, perspective on oscillating idea emerging in full.

Barenboim chose leisurely tread for the trio section this time, with broad rhetoric of its phrase endings and glow of light suffusing now spaciously accommodated harp arpeggio endings to each half - beautifully voiced horns the second time through. Strings re-entering after double bar sounded drowsy, but texturally open with opening statement reprise more specific in shape, plus fine sense of striving toward a peaceful close.

Central to Barenboim’s interpretation of the Eighth was the Adagio - finale effective denouement to follow. The Adagio in the Seventh prefigures to extent the Adagio in the very different Eighth; alongside such insight, Barenboim was effective guide the night before. With great yearning, violins assisted by fine pulsation underneath exerted pull with opening long held notes to the main theme, purposefully dragging well descending lines germinating thereof. Barenboim’s pace through just the huge buildup on A Major cadential chord, after Teldec, was still slightly brisk - not digging in all one could on doubled C-sharp in the bass. Moving through this chord too urgently denies making it count all it should. Abbreviated restatement toward more steeply achieved cadence (one whole tone higher) was firmer. Principal flute spurred cellos onto finer heights to fully achieve ardently sung second theme – rubato from calm French horn segue into such supple within the line – little to prepare for what risks Barenboim would then engage in.

Winds became impulsive during ‘Langsam’ interlude back to first subject, compelling strings to almost overstate their reply. With expressive shape maintained for new reprise of the opening theme, subtle immediate use of accelerando made felt on the consequent descending figure, once the strings picked it up, the impetus to break away. One might suspect Barenboim, trying to affect being Furtwangler, even to take things a step further - as occasionally suspected from an otherwise often circumspect Eugen Jochum.

Forceful repeat of same descending consequent in blazing doubled B-flat Major was anguished - behind it push to keep things moving ahead. Barenboim then circumspectly made fine separation for descending lines to restatement of the second theme; things kept rolling forward, even toward enfolding bright nodal pronouncement of second theme in C Major within the overall line. Pulsation was good for sextuplet accompanied reprise of the opening theme, but at restive pace, freely achieved pulling away became obvious. Establishment of D-Flat Major is such from which in the long run this music never entirely breaks free. Inexorable rush forward, though sufficiently loud climaxes in B-Flat Minor and A-Flat Major (Robert Haas restoration calmly in-between), indicated also by now a positivistic sense - striving by earthly means to achieve something of the infinite - to this, with, contrariwise hint of ‘annunciation’ becoming better heard tugging underneath lines to follow. After the shattering climax, French horns provided warm lit noble repose, to endure past the Adagio’s final cadence.

Barenboim’s impetus, what freedoms he took, was hypothetically to reveal the dialectics and accompanying stress – i.e. the special pointing of Scherzo idea to depict ‘Deutscher Michel’ crosscutting energy being directed toward constantly pushing forward motion to dilute, diffuse away such characterization. Here, finding a life-force in activity, motion forward made synthesis with dark underpinnings underneath. Here was not the Bruckner of Romantic devout faith or layered on with Romantic tradition learned device. Such goading, pressing forward imaginatively encountered here provided means of trying to close gap painful to leave open. Irritation with such handling, for straying away from conventional guidelines, could be expected - to perhaps be earned here slightly.

Detachment achieved was not such for Barenboim to find in an academic or intellectually achieved deconstructionist way, but out of necessity – including in such dialectical environs as how to maintain utter fluidity of line while keeping large impediments in trying to choke off all life behind it so prominent in its path. Subtle sense of decay through developing processes of this Adagio – even of main idea with Tristan derived pull to it – prefigures similar processes to occur in the Ninth. Constant positivistic striving to break free, keep life going, keep one oblivious of contamination from dialectical tensions all made itself felt. The beauty of this Adagio - in light of newer aesthetic than Furtwangler ever knew - Barenboim and Staatskapelle hardly ever compromised.

Insistent forward motion infused hefty, but rollicking start to the finale – fanfare in trumpets prudently placed halfway back, followed by reserved longing to infuse second theme group - with how beseechingly brass played their calm reply. Broad recitative in the strings in reply to insistent marcia third idea on purpose appeared detached from the rest. The Haas emendation to the finale sounded too bright, in response to first theme derived hard push on dominant chord for the mediant (E-Flat). Barenboim then also made too weighty opening the Development, next leaving brass flaccid in their repeated loud inversion of the first theme, in having arisen out of reprise of marcia idea heard first time slightly earlier.

Barenboim then became fastidious with lightly forward driven re-transition, insistent with it as though coda to the preceding section - all precisely marked. All prepared for an at once hair-raising, yet prudently held back start to the Recapitulation. Antiphony between pairs of trumpets for fractious secondary development was held prominent over rapidly scurrying strings toward dotted rhythm building of stretto of their own. Deep yearning infused again the second theme, at point - with no loss of poise - the physicality of all having transpired has this music practically crying out for place to find rest. Spacious provision for extended cadence in flutes, high winds to close this section was eloquent, as to even foreshadow Sibelius.

Finale coda, during which stable foundation for how to close entire dramatic argument had more than halfway been found, trudged slowly forward with third theme, culminating with arched climb in strings for harrowing restatement in C Minor at last of first movement first theme. Dissembling toward end of section (Coda, first part) also rhetorically aped sounding Sibelian here. Much air around violins for opening part two over rock solid brass helped complete picture toward – through steadily taken tricky brief D minor interlude – deliberate, purposefully a less than triumphant close.

This was arguably Barenboim’s finest movement – even while demarcated more conventionally than the preceding Adagio. This is not quite a definitive account of the Eighth; strides forward however with this interpretation are considerable - reckoning of what lurks beneath deep. As achievement here with the Seventh was enormous, so is potential with Barenboim on the Eighth and can happen in full. DVD release for four of the symphonies, including the Ninth, out of this STK Berlin series (with only perhaps further redo of the Eighth – one under review here plentifully exciting) would be very welcome, with for filler the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto.

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