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วันพุธ, ตุลาคม 06, 2553

Daniel Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin: Beethoven - Piano Concertos 1-5 [Blu-ray] (2009)






Customer Review:

If Daniel Barenboim is not the world's greatest living classical musician he is certainly the most versatile. In a career spanning more than 50 years, his name is attached to many of the celebrated recordings of opera, symphony, small ensemble and piano solo. With the later half of his career marked by distinction at the podium, one may forget that he is still an accomplished concert pianist. Here we are treated to both talents as Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin and plays all five of Beethoven's piano concerti. From the accompanying booklet we find that Barenboim first recorded these works in 1967 at the age of 24 under Otto Klemperer. Now he is revisiting them 40 years later on the occasion of his 65th birthday. 

The challenges of serving as conductor and soloist are undoubtedly considerable, but Barenboim, performing entirely from memory and without a score, makes it look easy and natural. Even while fully engaged in his role as soloist, Barenboim never loses command of the orchestra. Sometimes his direction is in the momentary freedom of a sweeping gesture of his left hand. At other times it's the subtlety of his nod or the quickness of his eye. The Staatskapelle is perfectly attuned to these nuances and their playing is always on cue and never hesitant. 

Among the many highlights: the wonderful exchange between piano and clarinet in the Largo of the first concerto, a thrilling account of the Rondo Vivace in the final movement of the fourth and all the beauty and majesty of the Emperor. 

The performance was recorded before a live audience during a three-day piano festival in Bochum, Germany in 2007. The concerts took place in the Jahrhunderthalle, which features an architectural design from a converted steel mill. The minimalist interior with high ceiling and exposed steel beams forgoes the traditional elegance that adorns many concert halls (and the stuffy pretence that goes with it). Aesthetically, the Jahrhunderthalle stands as a venue that emphasizes comfort and clean sight lines above all. The sold-out audience is appreciative and respectful of the music. They are often in view, but rarely heard (even between movements) until their applause at the end of each work. They are smartly (if not formally) attired people who know good classical music when they hear it. 

Some of the performances took place during daylight hours allowing the large rear windows to cast a gorgeous natural light on the audience as well as the performers who are further illuminated by soft stage lighting that highlights the musicians and their instruments where needed and without any harsh shadows. 

The 1080i Blu-ray image is near flawless. Skin tones are natural and appealing. The color of the instruments and the audience attire is accurate with no bleeding. The ivory keyboard is properly exposed and balanced with plenty of resolution to see the distinction between keys. The black levels are strong without losing any detail in the jacket creases of the musicians. Close-ups reveal the polished brass of the French horns as well as the fine grain in the basses and violins. Barenboim is appropriately the center of attention and we can see the delicate wisps of his hair and the beads of perspiration that begin to glisten on his forehead by the third movement of each concerto. 

The PCM 2.0 audio track is clean, but the piano sounds a little harsh above high C. By contrast the DTS HD-MA 5.1 track, by opening up the ambience of the rear channels and a broader soundstage, delivers a beautiful sound that is warm and spacious and devoid of any discordance in the upper register. The piano is properly centered while the sonic integrity of each orchestral instrument is presented with distinction according to its location on stage. 

The full program runs at approximately 3:20. There are no supplements save for a handful of trailers of other Medici Arts releases. An interview with Barenboim, some rehearsal footage and a short history of the venue would have been nice, but unfortunately were opportunities missed. In the end that's the only thing missing as this is, in every other way, a most welcome release and another grand achievement for one of classical music's most distinguished artists.
++++

Personally, I think of Daniel Barenboim as a possible Reincarnation of Ludwig van Beethoven. Whether he is
Conducting or playing the Piano, he certainly exhibits Beethoven's personality as it has been described in Historical Documents.

Let's face it, Barenboim is obviously NOT a Musician who Suffers Fools Gladly. Just look at him conducting the East-West Divan Orchestra in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. His movements are jerky and peremptory. If the violins are playing a bit too loud, he angrily gives them a "Quieter!" signal with his left hand. I honestly believe he suffers from the same malady as my Dear Wife, which I have dubbed "Legendary Impatience."

In this particular Blu-Ray, when Barenboim struts defiantly out onto the Stage at the Jahrhunderthalle, Bochum, wearing his Best Beethovenian Scowl and his Beethoven Coat, he may be consciously aping Beethoven, or maybe not...but it works for me!

ANYWAY, despite all the speculation above, you cannot deny that Barenboim is arguably The Best Living Interpreter of Beethoven's Music, probably because he has The Right Personality, and he is a Musician To The Core.

1) The Cadenza he wrote for this performance of Piano Concerto #1 defies description: I'm personally sure that Ludwig himself was smiling down from Musical Heaven at this performance - you WILL enjoy it!

2) For some reason, the 2nd Concerto doesn't seem to work as well - anyway, it was just Beethoven's first practice run at a Piano Concerto, as you probably know.

3) The energetic and forceful way in which Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin play the outer movements of Concertos 3, 4, and 5 are just PERFECT. At the other end of the scale, the melting heartwarming beauty of the slow movements are food for the Soul.

4) This Blu-Ray should get TEN STARS for all the important reasons including Brilliant Performances, Video Camera work and Picture Quality and Editing. What a treat! ENJOY!

p.s. Yes, that thumping sound in the 3rd and 4th and 5th Concertos is Barenboim slamming his foot on the Piano Pedal. That Legendary Impatience strikes again!

Daniel Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin: Beethoven - Piano Concertos 1-5 [Blu-ray] (2009)

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