Daniel Barenboim - Royal Festival Hall, 15 February 2008
Sonata in G, No 16
Sonata in C sharp minor, No 14 (Moonlight)
Sonata in F, No 6
Sonata in A flat, No 31
Martin Kettle says in this morning's Guardian that Daniel Barenboim's Beethoven sonata cycle at the Royal Festival Hall "is being lauded as London's musical event of the year - and even, according to the Evening Standard, of the decade." I wouldn't disagree with that. So why has the Guardian managed to review less than half of the concerts Barenboim has given so far? And I don't mean to pick on the Guardian - its rivals' coverage is just as skimpy. As far as I can tell, this blog is the only complete record of Barenboim's achievement. Why should that be when we have a number of national newspapers that purport to cover classical music?
Earlier this week, Guy Dammann claimed in the Guardian that "the cultural irrelevance of classical music... has now been officially recognised" on the grounds that a recent Guardian special contained "no entry of any kind on classical music". Discarding the bizarre premise that cultural relevance can be measured in Guardian column inches, isn't it the British newspapers themselves, with their ever-diminishing classical music coverage, and their general failure to contextualise it any way, which are becoming the cultural irrelevance?
The goverment's recent proposal to fund cultural activities for young people may be feeble, underfunded and ultimately unworkable, but at least it acknowledges that the near-disappearance of high culture in everyday lives is an issue that needs to be addressed. Why aren't the newspapers doing their bit? As regular readers of the terrific Milan-based Opera Chic blog will have cottoned on, the Italian press cover classical music, especially opera, in much greater breadth and depth than the British do, and whether as cause or consequence, have a keen readership.
Anyway, on to the seventh and penultimate concert in Daniel Barenboim's Beethoven sonata cycle. Is the law of diminishing returns setting in, or was Barenboim just a little bit complacent tonight? In the earlier part of the series, he's played as if he had something to prove, really fought for our attention. Tonight's concert had an air of the victory lap about it, as if he'd already said all he had to say. Technically, the focus wasn't always there either - poor articulation at pianissimo simply eliminated notes at random.
But the rhythmic management was as flawless as ever in the lolloping syncopation of No 16's first movement and the dotted contraflow over the Moonlight's ripple of opening triplets (given an unexpectedly 'objective' reading throughout). And Barenboim had no problem locating the humour in No 6, served up with a knowing wit. No 31 suffered in places from pedestrian pacing, but the finale at least was lucid and ultimately magisterial.
Of course Barenboim received a standing ovation at the end, graciously and lengthily acknowledged, as he has after every concert in this series, even if it was rather less merited on musical grounds this time. (Incidentally, I'd love to know what he said to individual audience members on the platform as he went round acknowledging their applause - most looked thrilled, but a few expressions registered something closer to shock.)
See here for posts on the other concerts in Barenboim's Beethoven series - and do check out this genius alternaview of the concert from 16 y/o Calvin too.