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Of course to be fair, one cannot judge an entire cycle from one concert, previous recitals having received glowing reviews. Yet one cannot ignore the single concert either, for Barenboim's own programming concept is explicitly directed at the possibility of audiences attending only part of it, hence the choice of rounded selections for each evening. And if, too, one could forgive a great pianist a few minor blemishes, here they were neither slight nor few. The most glaring was the memory lapse at the ends of the third movement of the first work, Op 27 No 1. I would be tempted to praise Barenboim for his masterly improvisation that led him back via some elegant filigree towards the dominant chord, from where the final, fugal movement could take flight. Yet along the way we heard some rather un-Beethovenian harmonies and textures, so that the seams were showing glaringly. Whether this audience noticed is questionable: the majority applauded after the first movement of the Waldstein, suggesting a measure of inexperience.

The sonata Op 27 No 1 had begun with what might have been a magical moment: the opening chords at ppp level following the tumultuous applause that greeted his entry to the stage. It was indeed magical to witness the capacity audience focused entirely so that one could hear a pin drop. Yet the chords lacked their potential luminous quality and were really oddly matt in colour and subdued. The left hand answering scales unfolded in relaxed delicacy, yet lacked any sense of tension or direction, until the rising scale of the left hand, with it's sforfzando, jutted out almost gratuitously from the texture: here was Barenboim going for an effect that disrupted the flow rather than evolving from within the structure. The central C major interlude was riveting, yet for all its speed and electricity, some of the beauty of the articulation was missing, and in the ensuing theme repetition, Barenboim seemed to be experimenting with balance of chordal textures, again undermining the theme itself.

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Copyright © 11 February 2008 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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