Tag Archives: Daniel Barenboim

Alisa Weilerstein (cello): Staatskapelle Berlin: Daniel Barenboim


Cello Concertos: Sir Edward Elgar & Elliott Carter; Kol Nidrei (Bruch)

DECCA 478 2735: TPT: 62’23”


Behzod Abduraimov (piano)

Liszt; Saint Saens; Prokofiev

DECCA 478 3301: TPT: 72’45”



Julia Lezhneva (soprano)

Il Giardino Armonico: Giovanni Antonini

Vivaldi; Handel; Porpora;Mozart

DECCA 478 5242: TPT: 60’48”


reviewed by Neville Cohn


Unlike, say, Mozart, Schubert and Chopin who died tragically young, Verdi was firing on all pistons into his eighties when he wrote Falstaff  – and Sibelius muddled drunkenly on into his nineties without having written anything of substance for years. But very few composers indeed have kept going well over the century mark as well as composing at a significant level. The remarkable Elliott Carter is a case in point. The US musician remained creative almost until his recent death at the age of 103. In, fact, between his 90th and 100th birthdays, he maintained a creative pace that many a composer decades younger would have had difficulty emulating, let alone exceeding.


In passing: imagine what Mozart might have produced if he’d lived another month – another week, for that matter: another symphony, perhaps, or a piano concerto. The same might be said of Schubert and Chopin. The tragic brevity of their lives on earth constitutes a massive loss to the world.


The long-lived Carter wrote his Cello Concerto when in his nineties. It’s played here by Alisa Weilerstein with the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

PACKSHOT Alisa Weilerstein - ELGAR & CARTER Cello Concertos

Like so much that Carter wrote, his concerto positively brims with intriguing ideas. There’s not a dull moment in his ever-changing sonic landscape and Weilerstein and Barenboim do it proud, seeming positively to relish coming to grips with its abundance of resourceful and engaging detail. It positively brims with novelty; it really warrants a good few listenings to respond to its multitude of musical thoughts.


I dare say that for many, the chief attraction of this recording would be Elgar’s Cello Concerto. That it is conducted by Barenboim adds a poignant dimension to the performance as the famous recording of the work with his cellist wife Jacqueline du Pre has assumed almost mythical status in the wake of the latter’s tragically lingering illness – MS – and death at far too young an age.


Weilerstein is a worthy soloist. The cello’s opening statement throbs with passion, the solo line gripping the attention from first note to last as the work’s evolving emotional landscape draws the listener ineluctably into Elgar’s unique and unforgettable sound and mood world. Throughout, Barenboim secures splendid responses from the Berlin Staatskapelle which provides a first rate accompaniment for the cello line.  There’s much that gives pleasure, too, in Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, his fantasia on the melody traditionally sung on the eve of the Jewish Day of Atonement. It’s a faultless offering at every level, its more introverted moments coming across with aching poignancy.


Another young musician reaching out for – and touching – the stars is Behzod Abraimov in a debut recording that ought to win him many admirers. He is sometimes compared to the legendary Horowitz – and his account of Saint Saens’ Danse Macabre is presented with the sizzling virtuosity and the sort of stylistic flair and diamond-bright tone that were so significant a factor in Horowitz’s playing. Here, Abraimov draws the listener effortlessly into the music’s eerie, phantasmagoric world .Cvr-0289478330

There’s much that gives pleasure, too, in Prokofiev’s massive Sonata No 6 with its bracing attack and follow-through and unerring sense of the composer’s idiosyncratic style. It has a confidence and brio that augur well for a stellar career.


A reading of Liszt’s Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude is less uniformly persuasive with the pianist taking up an interpretative position some little distance from the emotional epicentre of the music. The music’s mood of serene introspection was not always persuasively evoked. But there is compensation aplenty in Abduraimov’s reading of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1 which comes across with blazing intensity that calls to mind the astonishing virtuosity which can be heard in Julius Katchen’s celebrated DECCA  LP recording from the early 1960s. Abduraimov’s staying power is impressive with much of the playing the epitome of  intensity and drive.


A debut  DECCA recording by soprano Julia Lezhneva falls into that rare category in which the singing seems not so much a learned, studied skill but rather an act of such naturalness, such spontaneity, apparently free of the slightest strain, so entirely in tune (no pun intended) with the genre, so altogether satisfying as to be beyond criticism in the conventional sense. Of course, for playing to leave an impression of such freedom and freshness can, paradoxically, only be the fruit of the most concentrated self-discipline. This is music making at the most august level. Bravissimo!Cvr-0289478524

Lang Lang

Lang Lang (piano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim (conductor)
Piano Concerto No 1 in B flat minor (Tchaikowsky)
Piano Concerto No 1 in G minor (Mendelssohn)

DG 474 291-2

reviewed by Neville Cohn




Although still in his early twenties, Lang Lang is already a veteran of the international concert circuit. A classic wunderkind, Lang Lang amazed and delighted some of the world’s toughest and most cynical critics when, aged a mere seven years, he gave a performance of the complete Etudes of Chopin in Beijing, China. Unlike so many wunderkinder who burn out before maturity, though, Lang Lang is firmly set on an impressive career path. And although superbly equipped, as here evidenced, to perform the great 19th century concerto repertoire, he is as persuasive in his interpretations of Haydn and Mozart, wondrously evident in recordings made in his late teens.



Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto in B flat minor is one of the most recorded concertos in history. There’s hardly a pianist of substance who hasn’t placed it on disc – and Lang Lang is one of the latest of these. His account of the work is a compendium of musical marvels, in every way abetted by a near-flawless accompaniment by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presided over by Daniel Barenboim.

The concerto abounds in massive climaxes and Lang Lang presents them with superb assurance with playing that bristles with grandeur. The young Chinese pianist is hardly less persuasive in some of the composer’s most touchingly lyrical episodes into which he breathes life with an understated artistry that is one of his finest attributes as a musician.

Lang Lang is superbly equipped as protagonist in this most adversarial of all concertos, pitting massive blocks of sound and bursts of virtuosity against the might of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Lang Lang does not succumb to the temptation – as others often do – of presenting the first movement at too rapid a pace. On the contrary, his magisterial approach, deliberate pace and leonine tone enhance the inherent nobility of the writing. It was a most effective foil for the outer sections of the Andantino (taken at an unusually, perhaps excessively, slow pace but with ear-seducing, bell-like tone), the gentleness and introspection of the music conveyed to fine degree. In the soloist’s hands, the central, scherzo-like episode comes across as a little miracle of clear definition at whirlwind speed, daredevil-like scamperings that bordered on the incredible. I specially admired the skill with which gossamer-light note streams give way to the return of the quietness which ushered in the slow movement, the movement as a whole an astonishing achievement that will have many more senior pianists looking to their laurels.

In the opening pages of the finale, piano tone tends to edginess, the only reservation in an otherwise irrepressibly joyous presentation.

The outer movements of Mendelssohn’s Concerto in G minor call for considerable digital virtuosity and Lang Lang is more than up to the challenge in a work which, according to the liner notes, he first essayed at the age of seven years. As a work, the first movement, in particular, has not aged well. With its pompous, blaring orchestral flourishes and outdated, faded charms, it ought, like the antimacassars and aspidistras of the Victorian age, to have long since been consigned to history’s dustbin. So it is greatly to the credit of this sensational young Chinese pianist that, through the persuasiveness of his artistry, this Victorian relic sounds infinitely better than it really is, not least due to phenomenal finger agility and, every now and then, a heart-stoppingly beautiful lift to the phrase. This latter quality is much in evidence, too, in the CSO strings in the central Andante (a significantly more substantial piece of music than the first movement) – and the introverted beauty of its measures is exquisitely realised in glowing tone by the soloist. He is matchless in the finale to which he brings prestissimo, gossamer-light agility that make Mendelssohn’s meretricious note-spinning sound far, far better than it in fact is. In this sense, Lang Lang is a musical illusionist of the first order.

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn