Beethoven for All. Music of Power, Passion and Beauty, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim pianist and conductor. Decca 478 3513. 2 CD set.
The double CD set Beethoven For All- Music of Power, Passion and Beauty from Decca, features pianist, conductor and social activist Daniel Barenboim conducting the West- Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) and the Staatskapelle Berlin in 15 single movement excerpts from Beethoven’s solo piano and orchestral works. These excerpts are taken from the much larger collection of all of Beethoven’s symphonies, piano concerti and piano sonatas which Decca is releasing.
Ho hum. Numerous performers have plied this fundamental and popular repertoire. This collection however, stands out for many reasons.
First, the breadth of this project covers not just one form, but spans three major forms of Beethoven’s writing. Second, the consistency that the music is performed by the same ensembles – the symphonies by the WEDO and the concerti by the Berliners, with Barenboim at the piano and conducting all the works. Thirdly, the social and political purposes of the WEDO and the Beethoven project have given it a defining role in history.
Barenboim’s understanding of Beethoven is special. Barenboim performed his first Beethoven cycle at age 17. Turning 70 this year, Barenboim has grown with Beethoven. He has recorded the sonatas and piano concerti of Beethoven and has performed them around the world. “Beethoven’s music is universal,” he says. “Everywhere in the world – it speaks to all people.” Barenboim’s writings and observations on Beethoven as a person and on his music are substantial and profound. They are perhaps best summarised in this quote from Parallels and Paradoxes: “I think Beethoven’s greatness stems from the fact that he was completely a musician….he had such high moral ideas and this became a part of him and came in the music….the struggle is an essential, integral part of the expression in Beethoven’s music. ”
Barenboim’s life in music, growing up amidst war and working towards Middle Eastern reconciliation can only enrich his interpretations of Beethoven. So too would the joys and sorrows of his first marriage to the legendary cellist Jacqueline du Pre, to whom he was married for 15 years before multiple sclerosis took her life aged 41, and the paternal satisfaction of having his violinist son Michael lead the new generation of musicians who comprise the WEDO.
The Argentinian born Barenboim moved with his family to Israel when he was 10. Internecine conflict was a part of his growing up – first the aftermath of the second world war and then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The WEDO emerged in 1999 from a workshop for young musicians which Barenboim created with the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said. The musicians were drawn from Israel, Palestine and the other Arab countries of the Middle East to promote intercultural understanding and the experience of working together on a common project. Today, the communities are represented in equal numbers in the orchestra. The WEDO has performed all over the world – and that includes Ramallah in Palestine and Rabat in Morocco and made several recordings.
As the WEDO website says: “The WEDO has proved time and again that music can break down barriers previously considered insurmountable…..the destinies of the Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Through its work and existence the WEDO demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to one another. Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his or her neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.”
But back to this 2 CD set – the tracks include the first movement of the Symphonies No 5 and 6, the second movements of the Symphonies No 3, 7 and 8 and similar selections form the popular sonatas and piano concerti, culminating in what else, but the final movement of the Symphony No 9 with star soloists soprano Anna Samul, Wagnerian mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier, tenor Peter Sieffert and bass Wolfgang Koch.
If you like your Beethoven in bite-sized segments, this set is for you. If you prefer to hear the works in their entirety and in context then head for the CDs that contain your complete favourites. As well as the physical formats all releases will also be available in standard digital and Mastered for iTunes formats.
Anthony Holden of The Observer writes about Daniel Barenboim in 2008.