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New York
Carnegie Hall
02/11/2006 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 39 & 41; Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, K. 365
Radu Lupu (piano)
Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)

Do you know those cookies and candies that they sell in Salzburg or Vienna that are wrapped in the portrait of Mozart? Well, I like them as much as the next fellow, but was rather unpleasantly reminded of them on Saturday evening as the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra presented the first of their Mozart birthday concerts at Carnegie Hall. Choosing two of the last three symphonies, conductor Daniel Barenboim seemed to be putting a rather homogenous gloss on everything. This was reasonably well-performed Classical style with a decided modern twist, but never aspired to the heights of genius inherent in this incredible music.

The Symphony # 39 got off to an horrific start, at least a half dozen downbeats sounding in the space of a half a second. Barenboim had begun with a very tentative gesture that only confused his players, but they all made a nice recovery early on. Maestro spent a lot of intellectual energy on fashioning a close to perfect Andante and impressed with his smallish ensemble with period touches, such as smaller than normal timpani hit with hard sticks. The wind playing was wayward in spots, but the solo clarinet was suitably gliding when necessary.

Radu Lupu joined for the Concerto for Two Pianos, K.365. Unfortunately, Barenboim’s rather rude penchant for showing us his back left Mr. Lupu completely hidden in the wind section. Neither man seemed to be in possession of his A game this evening. There were many approximations where there should have been clear notes. A couple of times I conjured images not of elegant dancers but rather lumbering circus elephants. Good for a Stravinsky polka perhaps, but not a Mozart snowflake.

Finally, the Jupiter. There was nothing particularly wrong with this performance, but there was truly no sense of grandiloquence, no gravitas, no statuesque dignity. Playing was crisp but ultimately underpowered. The Berlin Philharmonic seems in little danger of supplantation.

Mr. Barenboim collapsed in Berlin last week and was hospitalized for balance problems. The good news is that he seemed fine this weekend. Even a New York blizzard didn’t keep his many fans away.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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