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Barenboim on Beethoven

EMI 0946 3 68993 9 8 (Six DVD set; each c.160-180 mins)

This big box of well filled DVDs has been hugely exciting to sample.

I was especially enthralled by Barenboim's master classes in Chicago with question and answer sessions at the end (including one with the controversial Lang Lang).

The concert performances of the sonatas at Barenboim's own Staatsoper Unter der Linden in Berlin brought back memories of his playing them all in London, during the 1967 inaugural season of Queen Elizabeth Hall.*

Here, though, I was irritated by the numerous arbitary camera changes, which did nothing for the music (e.g. 20 changes plus a couple of zooms and rotations in the six-minutes first movement of Op. 101).**

Paradoxically, in the shorter excerpts of Barenboim's own playing which frame the lessons, those same camera changes are not disturbing. It is a question of scale.

But make no mistake; this release is one to acquire and treasure. It is reasonably priced (r.r.p c£63) or c.£50 from Amazon; their ***** first customer review characterises it fairly:
The films demonstrate that at the same time as being one of the world's busiest and most accomplished conductors, Barenboim can still play the entire Beethoven sonata cycle from memory in less than three weeks - and can play it at least as well as any full-time pianist alive (and possibly better than any pianist that ever lived, except Beethoven himself). I was lucky enough to be in the Berlin audience for three of these eight recitals, and can vouch that the film-makers have captured the electricity and the magic of those occasions with great skill. Barenboim is performing the Beethoven cycle again at London's Festival Hall in Jan/Feb 2008.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* The Royal Festival Archivist has confirmed my memory and told me that "The Barenboim series of Beethoven sonatas began on 6 March 1967 before the QEH had been open a full week, and ran for eight performances, 6 March to 15 May 1967". In other words, the series finished exactly 40 years ago this evening. [Editor]

** q.v. also "Some of the camerawork, often showing the hammers of the piano, is irritating" (Ying Chang re Schiff Chopin DVD)

And see too Daniel Barenboim (playing, teaching and conducting, in Berlin, Chicago & Granada)