A false start and a joyous finish with Barenboim’s Bruckner 7
Carnegie Hall’s week of Bruckner is nearing its end, as Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin have just two symphonies to go before they’ve finished off the whole cycle. The performances thus far have been outstanding, by and large, offering renditions of these enormous works that could persuade even the most hardened of Bruckner skeptics.
Like Monday’s installment, the Friday program was markedly unbalanced, starting with a Mozart work that was significantly below the standard of the Bruckner it was meant to foil. In the Sinfonia Concertante, Barenboim showed he was willing to ask his players for thick, broad strokes–not everyone’s taste, perhaps, but an effective and unique interpretation.
But even from the beginning of the orchestra’s exposition, there were signs of raggedness, which were only exacerbated at the entrance of the soloists. Wolfram Brandl captured the graceful nobility of the violin part while Yulia Deyneka provided strong contrast with the mellow warmth of the viola. Yet both felt unsure technically, clambering through their parts as though playing with weights on their fingers. It ought to be difficult to get lost in sonata form, but no one, orchestra or soloist, showed much sense of direction in the first movement.
The Andante exposed sour intonation, not helped by Brandl’s lavish portamento, distracting from an otherwise affecting reverie. The orchestra showed some real vigor in the Presto finale, but a minor tug-o-war over the tempo kept the movement from ever settling in. The Staatskapelle’s First Concertmaster and Principal Violist, respectively, Brandl and Deyneka should be more than up to the task of the concerto, and in cases like this rehearsal budgeting seems a likely culprit. It’s Bruckner Week at Carnegie Hall, and no one is confused as to who is the real star of the series, but a Mozart concerto should never feel like a sideshow–least of all on the great master’s birthday.
Bruckner, at least, suffered no such lack of attention, as Barenboim led the Staatskapelle in an exceptional performance of the Symphony No. 7. Friday’s audience witnessed that rarest of concert occurrences, a false start–the string began their tremolo, but Barenboim quickly cut them off, turned around to blow his nose for a laugh, and got back to work. It was worth the retake–these first bars breathed, full of aspiration, growing into a rich performance that seemed to couch deep meaning behind every phrase. The course of the first movement was a thrill to follow, as it built finally into a masterfully executed, floor-shaking crescendo to close.
Barenboim summoned up crackling heat from the strings for the Adagio, drawing pulsing strokes before resolving into a soft, calm nostalgia. The Staatskapelle’s playing maintained keen focus in these moments of relative calm, seeming no less intense than the soaring, yearning heights. Barenboim is fond of giving a rough edge to the sound, here allowing his strings to dig in and his brass to blare as the music swelled to its highest peaks.
The Scherzo dragged a bit–it is marked “Sehr schnell,” after all–but still showed a fresh, twirling excitement, the jagged articulations contrasting with the soft-eyed, hazy trio. The Finale, appropriately, took the grand ambition of the piece to the limits of its potential, summoning up as much sonic intensity as possible for the exposition, and offering complete elegance in the development. The recapitulation effortlessly turned the infectious theme of the movement’s beginning from bright-eyed wonder into a racing, joyous fanfare.
Bruckner’s music, filled as it is with strong emotions expressed in forceful musical language, can often feel overstuffed, but in Barenboim’s hands, the symphonies this week have been clearly distilled, precise performances in which no gesture seems superfluous. The Staatskapelle’s final two programs of the remaining symphonies this weekend promise to be memorable occasions–if only they can come to terms with Mozart.
The Staatskapelle Berlin’s Bruckner cycle continues with Symphony No. 8 on Saturday 8 p.m. at Carnegie Hall. carnegiehall.org/bruckner