wed 23/04/2014

Daniel Barenboim, Tate Modern | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Daniel Barenboim, Tate Modern

Chopin a casualty in the great struggle between pianist and building

'Barenboim isn't a pianist that can just turn his hand to anything and magic up a masterpiece'
It had all the hallmarks of being an almighty car crash of an event. Barenboim? Chopin? Turbine Hall? You might as well have dumped the piano at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Actually, acoustically, it wasn't quite that bad. It sounded as if Barenboim was playing next door. Next door in France, that is. Or Germany. Which was where he and five members of the Berlin Staatskapelle had flown in from.
 

Perhaps it was worth another go. Classical music recitals have never been properly tried in the Turbine Hall before (though similar things have and have failed). Certainly Barenboim wasn't to blame. I doubt he even knew what the Turbine Hall was. He only arrived 30 minutes before the start of the concert. And Decca, under whose auspices this surprise event was taking place, can't be held responsible. They were just very valiantly trying to flog some of Barenboim's new Chopin CDs.

Someone, however, was to blame for flying in five members of the Berlin Staatskapelle to accompany Barenboim in one measly movement of the chamber version of the First Piano Concerto. Chopin's orchestral cushion is hardly riveting stuff. And in this arrangement, and in this hall, it became a barely audible, ill-defined hum. It would have been just as musically worthwhile to resurrect the infamous Turbine Hall electronic purr as accompaniment.

And why only the slow movement? That made more sense. No doubt Barenboim realised as soon as he stepped into this Jonah's whale of a place that nothing that didn't shift at a snail's pace (dolphins could have learnt how to walk in the time he spent on the two waltzes) could make any musical headway in a hall of this size and decided instead to settle on a few choice morsels that wouldn't be flattened. So we got four works in total. Four. Each desperately padded out with chit-chat. The usual Barenboim shtick. A mixture of the worst of Tony Blair and the best of Nicholas Parsons. Even in this diehard crowd it didn't go down well. He was greeted with a series of the most erudite catcalls in history: "Ballade in F minor!", "Waltz in B minor!" Needless to say, Barenboim did not enjoy being treated like a performing monkey. A tetchy side was being teased out of this great Gandhi.

And the music? Well, it wasn't a car crash. Not quite. Barenboim's too much of a pro for that. But it wasn't much of a musical experience. What we witnessed resembled more of a wrestling match, an Olympian tussle between man and building, Barenboim and hall. His first tack was to work with it. Allow the space to turn everything he played to mush. That was all very well for the concerto Romance. It withstood the Classic FM-ing. In fact, it gained something from being re-edited by the vagaries of resonance. The way the string accompaniment became a fuzzy blanket of distant noise was rather brilliant. I also don't think I've heard a piano line sound more pearly; Barenboim's slow melodic line seemed to relish swimming around that hall. But the effect had the interest not of music but of a very fine art installation.

The smaller works that followed had sharper changes of mood and dynamic direction. They had to become more than just dreamy, disjointed sonic baubles. They had to work as fully formed worlds. A monumental task in this hall. You could see the effort on Barenboim's brow. It was like he was attempting to manoeuvre the Titanic through a brook. Too big a push and the sound would never end. Too small and it wouldn't budge. So he heaved and he hoed, distorting the Nocturne in D flat major out of all proportion, adding bass octaves to the (in Barenboim's hands, five) Minute Waltz, struggling to tame the invisible rival that was the emptiness around him. Despite atmospheric changes of scene, the Barcarole ultimately descended into a bash-up.

 

Odd little rubato flutters gusted away flatulently at the start of the D-flat Nocturne apropos of nothing

One couldn't just blame acoustics, however. His legions of crazed fans massed in the hall stretching out their hands for just one feel of this modern Messiah will no doubt disagree but Barenboim isn't a pianist that can just turn his hand to anything and magic up a masterpiece. Mention his name in pianophile company and it is quickly dismissed. Live, he can upturn these expectations. The Beethoven cycle was without doubt a glorious thing. But he has a tendency to over-manipulate the musical line in a capricious way. (It is no coincidence that Lang Lang is a protégé.) Odd little rubato flutters, for example, gusted away flatulently at the start of the D-flat Nocturne apropos of nothing. This sort of thing would have been the same wherever he'd played the recital.

All this acoustical and stylistic idiosyncrasy might not have been good for us. But, ironically, it did him and his shaky technique no harm. Solecisms only began to get noticed when they started creeping into the melody in the Barcarole. It should have been enough to dock him a standing ovation. But then, as Barenboim himself said last night, the public are sometimes wrong. We were wrong, he said, to ignore Mahler for half a century. We were also wrong to attend last night's recital.

The effect had the interest not of music but of a very fine art installation

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Comments

Do any of you people address what clearly would have been a problem even for Richter (who 'did' cathedrals but not, as far as I'm aware, former industrial zones): the acoustic?
I believe the writer's time and energy should have been used to write a far more constructive, beneficial, valuable, advantageous, expedient, and helpful article than this juvenile analysis. Of course, there are many other critical reviews (and yes, I have read numerous critical reviews about pianism) in which I don't quite concur with, but unlike this infantile piece of worthless material, actually had a specific reason to be written. According to the review, the writer goes by the name of "Igor Toronyi-Lalic". Who is this person, I wonder? Out of the most illiterate, imprudent, senseless, lethargic, and pugnacious reviews ever written about classical music, to make a point, this by far, tops the list. And I believe this was written when the author was either ill, drowsy, or had something irrelevant going on his mind. I need to promise myself I'll never pay attention to the unintelligent reviewers who just write junk down on paper that is full of nothing but violence, irrelevance, ridiculousness, and nonsensical TRASH whose point of the writing is just to get money. I wonder if the author even understood how passionately Barenboim worked in his whole lifetime, or if even understood the meaning of being a proper critic...I truly believe he'll have to suffer it for later.
"And in this arrangement, and in this hall, it became a barely audible, ill-defined hum. It would have been just as musically worthwhile to resurrect the infamous Turbine Hall electronic purr as accompaniment." That was possibly one of the most spiteful, ignorant, and downright violent sentences I ever read in the history of the classical music forum. I'd wish people would refrain from wasting time on writing such unlegible gibberish. I'm pretty sure the author of this nonsense will have to suffer his/her consequences later. Idiot.
Full of piss and vinegar - but an entertaining read! I must admit that I've never been overwhelmed by anything that Barenboim has done at the keyboard. But I say that kindly: his recordings are all respectable; it's merely to point out that, while I consider him a wonderful artist, I've never been floored by one of his piano discs. I was lucky to see him once conduct Mahler's 7th in Berlin (which was released on Warner Classics), and I enjoy going back to his Bruckner recordings. I'm also a fan of his book of conversations with Edward Said, and I admire the work he's done to break down the boundaries between Israel and Wagner, and (more importantly) Israel and Palestine. This man is still contributing greatly to arts and culture - and for this reason, I would forgive him even on a questionable night. Thanks!
How funny that none of these commenters are actually saying that the critic is WRONG - were any of them at this event, and able to pick him up on any faults in the review? It doesn't appear so, in fact maybe they are the very "crazed fans" he mentions. I for one salute Igor T-L for not pandering to consensus and questioning the increasing appetite for "event concerts".
And there are people who get paid for writing pompous drivel like this????
And I was wrong to waste 3 minutes of my life reading this self-righteous trash. Mention Igor Toronyi-Lalic in the company of music journalists and his name is quickly dismissed. Mention Igor Toronyi-Lalic in pianophile company and the response will be.... Who?
Pretentious, self-regarding, condescending, biassed, pompous, verbal onanism. Rarely have I read a "critical" review of anything that is such puerile tosh as this. Barenboim could walked in wearing a loincloth, played a C major scale and left, yet would have made a greater contribution to music and humanity than this "critic" ever would in a lifetime of writing such nonsense.
Did you write this entire article in your own little ivory tower? Pompous drivel.

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