Friday 8 April 2011

Daniel Barenboim - Chopin at Tate Modern

Turbine Hall, Tate Modern

This is not intended in any real sense as a review but just as a brief note concerning Daniel Barenboim's impromptu concert - at least that is very much how it has been spun, and there is no obvious reason to believe otherwise - at Tate Modern. Announced yesterday, we were encouraged to register online for tickets; I was notified yesterday evening that I should have a seat on the Turbine Hall Bridge. I have no idea how many were in the audience, but it was certainly a goodly number, with many below watching on a screen. Barenboim was gracious - and astute - enough to greet them first, before coming up to the bridge, and acknowledged their presence throughout, for which he was rewarded with ecstatic applause. Whatever else one might say about him, he has star quality, the same quality I first noticed as an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge, when Jessye Norman came to my college chapel to give a private recital to mark the college's quincentenary. She almost only had to enter the nave to have a very special effect upon one; Barenboim's charm ensured that he held the audience in the palm of his hand, and would have done so even had he only spoken, without playing a single note. And thank goodness he made a plea for music education from the kindergarten onwards, which, as he so rightly pointed out, would solve all further music funding problems as a matter of course. Our so-called Secretary of State for Culture should have been made to listen to him and to copy out his words a hundred times.

In between his words - and Barenboim acknowledged that he would much rather be talked about for what he played than what he said - we heard a number of items by Chopin. I felt a little sorry for the string quintet made up of fine musicians from the Staatskapelle Berlin. Their role was solely to play in the chamber reduction of the slow movement from Chopin's First Piano Concerto. That is not exactly music that shows string players to their greatest advantage, and the acoustic proved an enemy too. Indeed, the acoustic played such tricks that one might have thought the piano amplified. So far as I could tell, it was a good performance; Barenboim certainly shaped the music well and maintained the composer's quasi-vocal lines. To be sure, I suggest that we wait for the forthcoming recording with the full orchestra. The D-flat Nocturne, op.27 no.2 received a spellbinding reading, twists and turns navigated and relished, yet with no loss to the overall line. A brace of waltzes provided contrast: the 'Minute' Waltz, which was enjoyable enough but is far from my favourite Chopin, and a truly searching, ruminative account of the A minor Waltz. I could have heard that again and again... Finally, Barenboim presented an equally compelling reading of the Barcarolle, possessed of great cumulative power but equally fine attention to its detail and, above all, to its bewitching charm.

Below is a relatively recent (2009, Copenhagen) Barenboim performance of the Nocturne: