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Composed only four years earlier, Kodály's Dances of Galanta is of an entirely different cast, a celebratory tone poem formed of regional dances infused with the flavour of Magyar, Gypsy and Slovak traditions. What made this thrilling was the VPO's solo woodwind, the eloquent clarinet theme of the first dance, the equally ravishing flute and oboe solos for the ensuing dances, and the centrally positioned cellos. Barenboim's analytical direction helped to clarify the impressionistic textures, as well as the frequent spicy augmented harmonies and sumptuous Debussyesque whole tone chords. Yet it is his sense of the surprise which distinguished this account, as when, after an unexpected pause, the woodwind share the final theme and the final dance plunges headlong to its fizzing finish.

Gyorgi Ligeti's Atmospheres (1961) was riveting from start to finish, an exquisite tapestry of continuous, rarefied sonorities. Familiar as the sound track to Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey, the beautiful whispered texture, though innovative for its time, seemed curiously orderly, circling around the orchestra from strings via woodwind to brass, where raspy sounds form a climactic midpoint after which the strings resume. Its novel soundscape of hinted, implied gesture, the delicately nuanced weave of the micropolyphony, at the edge of sound, with effects such as the brass blowing silently through their instruments, still, nearly fifty years after its composition, invites a new ways of hearing and the audience displayed the utmost concentration during its aptly atmospheric unfolding. Neatly sandwiched between two orchestral fireworks, the excellent performance formed a worthy tribute to one of the most influential post-war modernists one year after his death in 2006.

Though it is one of his most popular works, George Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No 1 (1901), a riotous display piece, is still not often performed, and it was apt to feature it as it was a favourite of Henry Wood. Barenboim and the VPO propelled it with dazzling dance impetus and excitingly graded dynamics that added thrilling drama, especially in the remarkable cadenza like passages which imitated gypsy music, solo rhapsodizing over static dominant seventh harmonies. Barenboim bounced and swung to the music on the podium, and elicited from the VPO every ounce of energy and colour. By contrast, in two rather more genteel encores by Johann Strauss, he moved with the courtly elegance of Viennese nobility, and by this stage the audience was too delighted to care about blips, such as the false violin entry where conductor and orchestra were caught off guard. With such echt-Viennese flair and lilt (which other string section plays such stylish, if brazen, portamenti at each appearance of the theme?), would it be too presumptuous to hope that Barenboim will soon be invited to conduct the VPO's annual New Year concert in Vienna?

Copyright © 11 September 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK

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STRIGGIO'S SIXTY PART MASS AT THE 2007 BBC PROMS

MAHLER'S NINTH: BARENBOIM AND STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN

MAHLER'S SEVENTH: BARENBOIM AND STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN

DANIEL BARENBOIM: THE RAMALLAH CONCERT

BARENBOIM CONDUCTS WAGNER'S 'RING'

DANIEL BARENBOIM CONDUCTS THE WEST-EASTERN DIVAN ORCHESTRA

DAVID THOMPSON AT THE 2003 BBC PROMS

DAVID THOMPSON AT THE 2002 BBC PROMS

JOHN ADAMS' 'NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL MUSIC' AT THE BBC PROMS

JOHN TAVENER'S 'SONG OF THE COSMOS'

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