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Chameleon Virtues

Barenboim conducts Gershwin, Bernstein, Ravel and Wagner -
reviewed by
ROBERT ANDERSON

'... the oddest assortment of music.'

Gershwin: Cuban Overture; Bernstein: Symphonic Dances. Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. © 2009 Warner Classics and Jazz

This is the oddest assortment of music. All the recordings are more than ten years old, with the Ravel dating from 1991. I can only assume that Warner Classics, having already issued five CDs of Barenboim on the rostrum, discovered there were some more bits and bobs admirably played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and decided to make of them a resurrection pie concocted from no particular recipe. It was sensible to place Wagner last, as his is incomparably the finest music, even if Barenboim hustles it a little. Tristan is music of such potency it could well repeat Joshua's feat at Jericho, and demolish Israel's apartheid wall, to the huge musical and political advantage of that tragic country.

Listen -- Wagner: Prelude (Tristan und Isolde)
(track 15, 4:36-6:17) © 2009 Warner Classics and Jazz

If Cuba is beginning to poke its nose out of the American frigidaire, Gershwin's overture is just the music to help the island on its way. Such infectious rhythms, reinforced by an array of percussion instruments Gershwin collected while holidaying there, make marvellous listening. Cuba deserves well for having invented and perpetuated the rumba, even if its politics were hopelessly unfashionable before the credit crunch. It is remarkable, though, how swiftly even economic theories can change.

Listen -- Gershwin: Cuban Overture
(track 1, 0:00-1:52) © 2009 Warner Classics and Jazz

West Side Story has migrated from the splendour of Broadway to innumerable humbler stages, and Bernstein's teenage gangs have been impersonated by schoolchildren of many countries, who have sensibly worked out their aggressive tendencies in terms of music that is wondrously skilful and touching. Bernstein's 1950s take on the Romeo and Juliet story has shown a vitality that has long outlived the particular street tensions that brought it into being. But others have taken their place, and fugues have in them the seeds of eternity.

Listen -- Bernstein: Fugue (Symphonic Dances)
(track 9, 0:53-1:35) © 2009 Warner Classics and Jazz

Ravel did not often commit himself to a work on the scale of the Daphnis and Chloé ballet. But the subject, dealing with a Chloé temporarily separated from her Daphnis by a gang of pirates, and reunited with him by the aid of a very French and civilised Pan, elicited from him music of a subtle beauty and cool strength that he rarely matched. The Second Suite is taken from the end of the work, a joyous hymn to Classical values.

Listen -- Ravel: Danse générale
(track 14, 0:33-1:40) © 2009 Warner Classics and Jazz

Barenboim and the orchestra have shown chameleon virtues of many hues in this so varied repertoire.

Copyright © 16 September 2009 Robert Anderson,
Cairo, Egypt

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CD INFORMATION: GERSHWIN, BERNSTEIN, RAVEL AND WAGNER

DANIEL BARENBOIM

GEORGE GERSHWIN

LEONARD BERNSTEIN

MAURICE RAVEL

RICHARD WAGNER

WARNER CLASSICS

CUBA

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

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