This was one of the hottest tickets in the entire Proms season. I applied for it the same as everyone else; adding a host of Proms into my “basket” and then eagerly waiting for the release date laptop at hand. Nonetheless, I still reckon I’m one of the lucky ones who managed to bag a ticket. The hall was completely packed out.
The performers themselves, Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich, are names enough to fill concert halls twice over without even mentioning the programme. They are two of the greatest and most celebrated classical musicians alive today, who have packed halls and delighted audiences for over half a century. I’d been looking forward to this concert for months, years even, because of Barenboim. It’s his recording of Beethoven symphony cycle, piano concertos and sonatas that I listen to; his recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle that I constantly go back to (second only to Solti’s Ring); and his fearsome advocacy for Palestinian rights – to the extent he’s been labelled a “traitor” by certain Israeli’s – that I admire so much. Barenboim I have followed since more or less when I started on my classical music journey. I have tried to get tickets to his concerts before, on several occasions, but always failed because I hadn’t booked them a year in advance. I was completely psyched when I booked this ticket in particular and told myself “I’m finally going to see Barenboim AND Argerich in concert!” I counted down the days to this one.
First on menu was Jorg Widmann’s Con Brio, a “concert overture” for orchestra. It takes ideas from Beethoven’s 7th and 8th Symphonies and blends them together in what Andrew Clements calls “an indulgent, postmodern smoothie”. I’m not one for atonal and postmodern music, so, naturally, I didn’t really like the piece. That said, there were some interesting moments which tickled my fancy and gave me a window into understanding why Widmann is one of today’s more famous composers. Even so, chances are I won’t be writing an introductory guide on him.
Next was Liszt’s Piano Concerto 1 in E flat major, one of the shorter ones in the repertoire and demonstrates well the virtuosity of its soloist. Argerich can excite audiences with her virtuosity and calm them with incredible lyricism, both of which were seen in her performance. This concerto is not the greatest or most virtuosic in the repertoire, but it is great fun to listen to, and this is what Argerich and Barenboim together really brought out, its playful and joyful nature.
Then came a real treat; the duo took to the piano and played Schubert’s Rondo in A D951, his final work for piano four hands written a few months before his untimely death. I was mesmerised.
Then came what I was really looking forward to. As I’ve said, Barenboim’s recording of the Ring Cycle is one of my favourites. So when I found out that half the concert are Wagner pieces, who also happens to be my second favourite composer, I had to contain my excitement to stop my head exploding from the insane news. The performances lacked the big, expansive Romantic sound filling the entire hall that I’m so used to hearing. The power of the upper strings, and might of the orchestra weren’t felt very often. That is not to say, however, that the performances were bad or lacked emotional appeal; they didn’t. Siegfried’s Funeral March smothering the audience in sound and was brilliantly played. The brass were exceptional throughout the entire concert, but came into their own in the March and Act 1 prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg. With a further two encores, from Die Meistersinger (Act 3 prelude) and Lohengrin (Act 3 prelude), I left the hall with a grin stretching from one earlobe to the next. I suspect many others did too.
This concert was televised and will be broadcast on the BBC, so I’ll be reliving it again.