Prom 13: Daniel Barenboim/Michael Barenboim/West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall
Wednesday 25 July 2012
As their intensive Beethoven and Boulez series steams onward, you might expect the players of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to be wilting a little. Not a bit of it. This fourth concert held the work that many consider Beethoven’s finest symphonic gem, the Seventh – and if anyone’s mojo needed a shot in the arm, that was the place to be.
After the opening Eighth Symphony, though, the stage was given for the rest of the first half to just one performer – Michael Barenboim, the violinist son of the conductor – plus live electronics by IRCAM’s Gilbert Nouno, the computer music designer, and Jérémie Henrot, the sound engineer. In their capable hands, Boulez’s Anthèmes 2 proved a modern marvel, holding its own beside Beethoven’s best.
This work from 1997 grows as if organically out of the strophic forms of psalms that Boulez remembered hearing in childhood. The sounds of Barenboim Jnr’s violin are refracted into a bedazzlement of electronic transformations which cascade down from a range of speakers around the perimeter of the ceiling. The electronics are every bit as virtuoso a feat as the violin playing: the second episode’s pizzicato sets up a multifaceted hailstorm, while at other moments the soloist’s cantilena is surrounded by what feels like a phantom string ensemble. Boulez’s intensity of sonic colour seems to pick up and transform a kernel of the sound-colour notions of his teacher, Olivier Messiaen, in almost the same way that the electronics work on the violin’s tone. Mesmerising.
The evening started with Beethoven’s compact Eighth Symphony, dominated by focus, control and what sometimes felt like over-restrained tempi. But its elemental nature shone through – powerful rhythms, the interdependence of the instrumental voices, the heart-of-the-matter paragraphs; after the interval these qualities came to fruition in the Seventh.
Barenboim ran this symphony as a giant single narrative, almost without a break. As he shaped both microcosm and macrocosm – from the detailed phrasing of the second movement’s fugal episode to the overall pace that saved the real letting-rip for last – the orchestra began to move and breathe as one. And we found ourselves in one of those tremendous moments when music does what it does best: unifying performers and audience as everybody simply loses themselves in the shared energy of the experience. At the conclusion Barenboim stood triumphant, milking the ovation – as well he might.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food