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Review: A ‘Thrilling Start’ to a Bruckner Symphony Cycle with Barenboim at Carnegie

By Jose Andrade, Contributing Writer, January 23, 2017

Anton Bruckner has long been an important contributor to the symphonic repertoire, but January 19-29, 2017 New York City is experiencing its first Bruckner Symphony Cycle at Carnegie Hall! In honor of Daniel Barenboim’s 60th Anniversary of his debut at Carnegie, Maestro Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin present Bruckner’s Symphonies 1-9, paired with concert works by Mozart. On January 19th, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the first performance of this epic journey, with Mozart’s final Piano Concerto No. 27 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1.

Conducting from the piano, Barenboim began the concerto with a broad opening, opting for a relaxed sound, with many diminuendos. Long regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world today, Barenboim’s playing was both languid and sparkling, even adding a slight Viennese luftpause to one of his solo’s. The second movement was suitably melancholy, magnificent in its subtlety. A wistful third movement concluded the concerto, presenting more variation in tempi than the first two movements, gradually picking up in tempo, building to climaxes and then delicately backing off.

Probably the least performed of Bruckner’s symphonies, his Symphony No. 1 is a daring piece, influenced by Schubert, Mendelssohn and Wagner, brimming with ideas and techniques he would utilize throughout his life. Barenboim let the opening march start with an inquisitive quixotic mane, building the tempo, relaxing it just as the orchestral forces grew even larger, until the horns had prominently established their dominance over the orchestra. Each climax brought a careful conclusion to Bruckner’s ideas in this first movement.

During the second movement (Adagio), Barenboim ably-handled the polyphonic elements reminiscent of a Haydn symphony: the violins playing one melody, competing violas and lower strings playing a separate melody simultaneously. His tempo was deceptively lax, but always retaining tension, concluding with a stunning final note.

The third movement (Scherzo) was playful, but Barenboim intentionally subdued the principal themes, keeping his forces in check, allowing them to grow. Part of the beauty of this movement is Bruckner’s chromatic key progressions for his themes which were both jarring and gorgeous.

The Finale is the only fourth movement in a Bruckner Symphony that starts forte. Barenboim pulled off the tricky feat of going from forte to silence, allowing the acoustical effect to linger, allowing for a true silence before its conclusion.

This concert marked a very thrilling start to an exciting nine days of Bruckner, Mozart, and the art of Daniel Barenboim.

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Staatskapelle Berlin in concert at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, January 19, 2017. Daniel Barenboim, Music Director, Conductor, and Piano.

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 1

 

Cover: Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin at Carnegie Hall; photo: Steve J. Sherman


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