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Over the course of the evening, he repeated similar stark dynamic emphases, which at their best made me aware of his orchestral thinking: this was a conductor cueing in a brass or wind section, bringing to life an orchestral tapestry. The problem is that at the same time it virtually distorted the pianistic design of Beethoven's music, since there was no similar detailed articulation of the surrounding textures. The off-beat emphases in the Trio of the Scherzo of Op 27 No 1 were almost caricatured, the rising arpeggio's lack of context almost dada-esque. In Op 10 No 3, Barenboim stressed the first notes of each four note motif, as if it were a horn call, yet this masked, overpowered the tonal values of the rest of the motif, the rest of the phrase. At one point in the development we heard the powerful rising bass line super-emphasised, as if the entire bass section of the orchestra was involved: it was one of the exciting effects, yet it did not reach its fulfilment as part of a larger concept, it remained just a colouristic effect.

The slow movement fared far better: Barenboim immersed himself in this most expressive of movements, sustaining harmonies and dissonances to give it a (possibly unstylistic) Wagnerian depth and suffering. The following Minuet was brief and elegant. The finale flowed deftly, yet I have heard Barenboim himself play this with far more humour and classical wit than was evident here.

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Copyright © 11 February 2008 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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