Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Also, Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E flat major; Elgar: Nimrod. Daniel Barenboim, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.  Warner Classics 2564-62791-2.

This live concert album is subtitled "Barenboim's orchestra plays for peace in Ramallah." For good reason, as his youth orchestra, which he co-founded with Palestinian Edward Said in 1998, is made up of young players from both Israel and Arab countries, all working together to unite people in the joy of music. If this concert is any indication, they're on the right track.

Things begin with Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, K297b. It's a peppy little work, yet under Barenboim's baton, it displays much inner warmth, serenity, and wit as well.

Then comes the centerpiece of the show, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, possibly the most well-known piece of classical music in the repertoire, which the conductor plays with fire and enthusiasm. You'll find everything here you've come to expect from the Fifth Symphony and more, Barenboim pointing up the work's tense explosiveness and doing so at speeds that approach those of Fritz Reiner in his old RCA Chicago Symphony account. OK, maybe the performance lacks the ultimate electric charge of Reiner's performance or of Carlo Kleiber's DG recording, but it does come close with its involvement, its fury, its energy, and its passion. And to think that it is a youth orchestra performing at this high level and with this precision is quite remarkable.

Following the Beethoven, Barenboim gives us a brief, four-minute speech about his orchestra and how proud he is of them, saying he hopes the example of their willingness and cooperation will be an inspiration for understanding amongst all peoples. Then he concludes the program with an encore, the "Nimrod" segment of Elgar's Enigma Variations. It is quite beautiful and makes a fitting close to the concert.

The recording, made in Ramallah's Cultural Palace in 2005, is about what we have come to expect from miking a live event; namely, the sound exhibits a slightly veiled presence, with good dynamics but not a lot of essential clarity or orchestral depth. While the stereo image is admirably wide, the sonics are also rather close up, yet without a lot of sparkle. So, we get good performances here in somewhat indifferent sound.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa