Everything comes to him who waits – though in the case of César Franck, he was already in his mid-sixties and about to shuffle off this mortal coil before his Symphony in D minor, Op.48 achieved a measure of popular success. Even then the French musical establishment was quite scathing about its worth. Two generations ago it appeared regularly on concert programmes, but as musical fashions have a habit of changing, the work has had fewer recent champions. Sadly so, for it is a unique work.

Daniel Barenboim conducts the East-Western Divan Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival
© Marco Borrelli | Salzburger Festspiele

Before this performance with Daniel Barenboim conducting his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival, I was half-expecting him to stress the Brucknerian undertones. I wasn’t quite prepared, however, for the enveloping darkness that he descended into, without any of the demonic elements present in his one-time mentor Wilhelm Furtwängler's celebrated 1945 recording. Overlaid with a brooding quality, wisps of melody emerged gradually from the mists of time, wrapped in layers of the misterioso so characteristic of Bruckner himself, those early shivers from the strings nowhere near as urgent as they can be. It was beautifully played, to be sure, and it was a joy to see and hear an almost standard-size string complement again (no social distancing either, nor in the packed auditorium, though here everybody wore FFP2 masks), with a number of familiar faces borrowed from elsewhere and the multi-talented Lahav Shani leading his section of seven double basses.

The central Allegretto tended towards the soporific, the whispering strings giving the sostenuto treatment of the melodic fragments an almost spectral character. Though their warmth and unanimity were echoed throughout in the eloquent woodwind playing, here too my ears were being firmly led toward Germanic rather than Gallic aural landscapes, the cor anglais solo in the Finale stripped of all piquancy and made to sound as mournful as some of the textures in Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. Though the horns, ably led by Ben Goldscheider, provided touches of colour, none of the brass (including parts for two cornets as well as tuba) was ever permitted to ride the crest of any wave. Tension sagged a lot.

Michael Barenboim, Kian Soltani and Daniel Barenboim
© Marco Borrelli | Salzburger Festspiele

The evening’s two soloists, Michael Barenboim and Kian Soltani, demonstrating commendable dedication, were back in their usual places after their earlier concerto performance. In Brahms’ Double Concerto in A minor, Op.102, they were well matched in terms of mutual sensitivity and musical approach (phrases articulated with similar care), though there was a tonal difference. I very much liked Soltani’s earthiness, the way his colouring fully exploited those autumnal russets, ochres and chestnut-bronzes, whereas Barenboim’s brighter, more silvery tone was suggestive of aerial and ethereal regions. The Andante gave full expression to the rich harmonies and glowing ardour that are familiar territory from the inner movements of the composer’s Third Symphony. Barenboim père, conducting without a score, shaped the orchestral accompaniment lovingly. At times Barenboim fils appeared just a little overcautious compared to his somewhat freer fellow soloist. Both, however, found touches of playfulness in the robust Finale that helped to lighten the mood. This was picked up in the skittishness of their encore, the Canzonetta from Reinhold Glière's 8 pieces for violin and cello, Op.39.

There was a degree of grandiloquence at either end of this concert. Barenboim’s way with the Prometheus overture involved a rewriting of mythology: fat and portentous chords to open with, string lines that murmured rather than spoke, an absence of fire and energy. Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations was the orchestral encore, predictably rounded and weighty with touches of period-inspired string portamento.

 This review was made from the arte.tv stream

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