Last Sunday the Staatskapelle Berlin visited the Musikverein with Pierre Boulez conducting and their music director Daniel Barenboim doing piano duty with both Liszt concertos, along with some piano-less Wagner works. I should say right off that at this concert I had the unusual experience of being plucked from the hellishly crowded standing room and moved to stage seating behind the basses. The acoustic made me feel like I was playing the orchestra myself (my instrument hangs out in the back) but particularly for the piano in the concertos the balance was strange and unblended, so I’m not sure I should be writing this review at all and I’m going to keep it short. Watching Boulez was fun, though–when I could see him (basses are big!). It was interesting but I’m not sure if I would choose stage seating again.
For someone who spends most of his time conducting and saving the world, Barenboim’s piano skills are in amazing shape, at least as evidenced by his performance of the second concerto (which he played first). Nonetheless, those looking for sheer virtuosity were probably better off with Lang Lang’s Philharmoniker Liszt program earlier the same weekend; Barenboim did not seem interested in superficial flashiness. He was most memorable in the chamber music sensitivity he brought to the quieter passages, where he worked admirably closely with the orchestral soloists. More than a few spots in the E-flat Concerto were approximate, and at one point he came in a few beats early. But between them Barenboim and Boulez made these (in my opinion) kind of annoying concertos sound better and more substantial than they deserve.
The rest of the program consisted of two instrumental works by Wagner: the early Faust Overture and the Siegfried Idyll. Both were vintage Boulez, spotlessly precise, lean, restrained, and transparent. The Faust Overture sounds more like Weber or Meyerbeer than mature Wagner, and isn’t the kind of repertoire I associate with Boulez at all, but I found Boulez’s cool approach surprisingly exciting. The Siegfried Idyll was just beautiful (and since I’ve played it a few times a little strange to experience from the orchestra’s sound perspective). The orchestra sounded even better than their already-excellent Chaikovsky under Barenboim last February.
Staatskappelle Berlin; Pierre Boulez, conductor; Daniel Barenboim, piano. Musikverein, 6/5/2011. Program: Liszt, Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Wagner, Siegfried Idyll and Faust Overture