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With Barenboim at the helm the concerto fizzed and sparkled from start to finish. The control and suppleness of Barenboim's touch, his ability to modulate through different moods and to arrest time itself, as he did in the finale's cadenza, to shape the responsive orchestra in patterned dialogues: all was breathtaking. This was a true Beethovenian soundworld, with rich strings, clear wind and brass, and bristling timpani. There were daring dynamics in the first movement and a riveting cadenza in which the trill conveyed a sense of optimism in switching from minor to major in the final hushed codetta. The slow movement was dreamlike and ravishing in sonority, the woodwind melting and mellow in response to the piano's tenderness. The finale bristled with energy, Barenboim imbuing every gesture with meaning. Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony displayed the orchestra's qualities to the full, with rich soloistic playing by woodwind and brass sections, notably the horn solo in the slow movement and its imitation by oboe and strings. The clarinettist was on terrific form in the first movement, announcing the initial motto that reappears transformed throughout the work, in the finale blazed out with incredible force and brilliance. Barenboim took this work almost over the top, conducting without a score (as in the Beethoven), with incredible detail of articulation, adding to the excitement of counterpoints between orchestral sections, strings and brass, string and wind. The power-packed first movement unfolded with drama, yearning phrases in the strings shaped and singing under Barenboim's baton. The delicate waltz third movement had transparency and elegance before an exciting finale.

This was undoubtedly a spectacular performance from a youth orchestra, and its optimistic aura was somewhat enhanced by the presence of Barenboim's son in the role of leader. Yet what was most remarkable was the experience of seeing all the participants -- drawn in equal numbers from Israel and various Arab lands, and from Spain -- playing together as one man. As Barenboim later remarked, the orchestra (which meets annually in Spain for a rehearsal and training period before touring a series of concerts) provides a forum in which to forget differences. 'Where else would you find thirty Arabs wishing an Israeli well', he asked, 'except in a Tchaikovsky Symphony where the horn player is getting ready for his difficult solo, and similarly where else do you find thirty Israelis hoping an Egyptian oboist does well -- in his solo'. Barenboim also expressed admiration for a young fourteen year-old violinist from Ramallah for sharing the stage with 'people who have made her life problematic'.

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Copyright © 4 November 2004 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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