Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Beethoven: Symphony No 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
Beethoven: Symphony No 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
On Thursday evening, I was back on my own in my temporary Carnegie Hall spot for the second leg of the Beethoven marathon by the wonderful West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, 24 hours after a very promising debut. This time, we would get to hear the Fourth and the Third symphonies, and in that order too, presumably to make sure that the audience would stick around for the much more substantial Eroica.
I was slightly surprised that the people around me looked different from the night before, although still represented a pretty accurate sample of the general population. The only exception being the dedicated woman who was back with the scores in front of her a few seats from me. I guess that if for any reason Daniel Barenboim, who was effortlessly conducting sans music sheet, suffered a sudden lapse of memory, she could always shout out the answer.
The Fourth symphony is not completely inconsequential, but it is not a flashy artistic statement either. That being said, there's no doubt that being sandwiched between the major achievements that are the Third and Fifth is not a good spot to get noticed either. Naturally, it goes without saying that even an "almost inconsequential" symphony by Beethoven still has a lot more going on in one movement that many other complete works out there. On the other hand, it is true that in view of the rest of his œuvre, the Fourth is rather light-weight. Opening with a few agonizingly slow minutes, it soon perks up, picks up speed and remains in a generally happy-go-lucky mood until the very end. And there's nothing wrong with that. Playing with the same whole-hearted conviction as the day before, the orchestra vividly emphasized the unsung appealing qualities of this very fine composition.
The Big One of the day was, of course, the Eroica whose sheer size and musical density still leaves the listener in awe. Just to make everything clear, the two thunderous opening chords warns everybody who is not already aware of it that what is following is not going to be any ordinary journey but rather a dazzling explosion of force and inventiveness. Having arrived at the half-way point of their strenuous if thrilling run, the resilient youngsters in the orchestra were not showing the slightest sign of fatigue or lack of focus but, au contraire, attacked this new challenge with plenty of heart and gusto. Probably relishing the pleasure of sinking his teeth into such a juicy piece, Daniel Barenboim conducted with his trademark intimate knowledge of the score and die-hard commitment to the musicians for an all-around glorious Eroica.
Five down. Four more to go.