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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 29
Barenboim's brilliant Bruckner - A new challenge and a dream come true
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Barenboim's brilliant Bruckner - A new challenge and a dream come true

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

SALZBURG FESTIVAL: OPENING CONCERT
WIENER PHILHARMONIKER
(Unitel Classica; 2010)


I have a highly respected friend whose favorite opera is Strauss' Elektra. I found it difficult to share his enthusiasm, so I invited him to come and 'hold my hand' while we watched the great Karl Böhm video with Leonie Rysanek. And it worked! Suddenly I understood and loved this opera.

Where can I find such a friend for the music of revered composer/conductor Pierre Boulez? I have listened now four times to his Notations I-IV & VII and am only a little closer to understanding his musical language. So, forgive me if I don't comment on this 21-minute performance, other than to say that the superb sound of this Blu-ray disc is a great aid in penetrating the complex orchestrations (lots of percussion instruments). This music is not dull; I shall listen more times. (As an inquiring teenager, I bought the wonderful Reiner recording of Strauss' Ein Heldenleben and listened to it over and over until I finally 'got' Strauss' musical language and its glory. Familiarity breeds understanding!)

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker at the opening concert of the 2010 Salzburg Festival on this disc. The opening performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 finds Barenboim also at the keyboard. Drama, poise, lovely phrasing, and great dynamic contrasts characterize this fine reading. Barenboim is no second-rate pianist. After such warm, lush music, the Boulez comes as a refreshing palette cleanser even if it takes one far out of one's comfort zone.

But it is Anton Bruckner's Te Deum that drew me to this disc. This recording is for me a dream come true. The large forces and complex writing never did fit very well into the mono LP grooves of my old Bruno Walter recording. Barenboim here gives an equally committed reading, but with a vastly superior quartet of singers and chorus (of the Vienna Staatsoper). Dorothea Röschmann, Elina Garanca, Klaus-Florian Vogt, and René Pape not only sing well but are also beautifully balanced in the recording. The sonic blend of large orchestra and chorus with the soloists couldn't be better. Thus, Bruckner's amazing ability to write rewarding lines for multiple parts singing or playing at once comes through clearly.

Bruckner is, for sure, not everyone's cup of tea. But if you've ever enjoyed one of his works, I urge you to explore this one. The subtitles make it clear how successfully Bruckner expresses the text, all the way from great shouts of joy about the glory of God to the most tender intimacy. One of the highlights is the violin descant over the tenor's solos, surely one of the most celestial evocations I have ever heard. Toward the end, Bruckner quotes and then varies a glorious theme from his sublime seventh symphony (which he wrote in parallel with the Te Deum). It's one of those ascending progressions that climb to thrilling heights.

Barenboim clearly understands the beauty and power of this work. He revels in the stark dynamic contrasts throughout, and with the DTS HD sound, the huge climax that brings it to a tremendous close could not be more powerful.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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