Concert halls are modern sacred buildings. Even in an architectural marvel as democratically inspired as the fried egg-shaped Pierre Boulez Saal, angels can sometimes walk the room. Even when it’s half empty. Because the audience was scarce, as unfortunately almost everywhere at the moment. This evening was originally planned as a Beethoven recital. Daniel Barenboim wanted to give a concert for the benefit of the UN refugee aid association. But the program was canceled twice. First Barenboim’s doctors forbade the performance, then Barenboim’s son jumped, the violinist Michael Barenboima, including several musicians of the Divan Orchestra.
So the benefit began, drunk with the summer wind, with Anton Webern’s C minor movement for string quartet. Barenboim junior played, as primarius, this resolutely backward-looking music with a big tone and sweet portamenti. Also in the spirit of the old school, Katrin Spiegel performed the part of the viola impressively. Samir Obaido and Assif Binness fit into the sound.
A greeting from Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, presented by his assistant Gillian Triggs, asked for the collection, and the new rector of the Barenboim-Said Academy, Regula Rapp, also reminded of the duty of solidarity with the more than 100 million people who are currently on the run worldwide. In Mozart’s clarinet quintet, Yussef Eisa cultivated a beautifully darkened chalumeau tone, but he acted throughout as a soloist. Michael Barenboim had to repeatedly assert that the string quartet is much more than just an accompanying combo for the clarinet.
Then, after the break: the second program change. Instead of Mendelssohn’s octet, Schumann’s great E-flat major quintet was heard, with the complexly intricate funeral march in the second movement – and with Daniel Barenboim on the grand piano. After him medically a conducting performance in the open air was allowed, the maestro, feeling renewed strength, decided at the last second that he wanted to perform again as a pianist himself. That looks similar to him: surprise guest in his own concert!
They had obviously been rehearsing intensively: old-fashioned moderate in the tempi, symbiotic in the interaction, romantic in sound, flawless in the legato-saturated reading, with fiery peaks: It was a celebration and a pleasure. The strings circled the grand piano, focused on the primus inter pares. He gave a touch too much pedal. And let himself be celebrated. Eleonore Buening