Barenboim, Chicago Symphony shine

May 16, 1994|By W. Andrew Powell | W. Andrew Powell,Special to The Sun

Poor Daniel Barenboim. He has taken quite a pummeling from critics lately. Some don't think he's good enough to fill the shoes of long-tenured maestro Georg Solti at Orchestra Hall, Chicago.

Rich Daniel Barenboim. Not only has he landed one of classical music's best-paid jobs on these shores, he has also recently Pinzered millions of deutschemarks as chief of Berlin's newly re-commercialized, re-glamorized musical shrine, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, an institution bereft of such luster since the Nazis.

So expectations were high, if muddled, for Mr. Barenboim's return to the Kennedy Center on Saturday with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As it turned out, the dollars and marks seemed far better placed than the criticism.

The program, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 19 and Brahms' Fourth Symphony, aptly echoed this team's 1992 visit, also sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society. But if that event remains memorable only for a grotesquely Wagnerized Beethoven "Leonore Overture No. 3," Saturday's concert will resonate in Washington minds for a transcendent -- and fabulously played -- reading of the Brahms.

The Buenos Aires-born, London-launched, Paris-groomed Mr. B. had it all to say about this tragic score.

His opening Allegro built to its shattering climax. The Andante, not as lyrical as usual, glowed with ambiguity and threatening stillness; the third movement rang bright and hollow, as it must.

In the Finale, Mr. Barenboim took us where few can navigate -- down and down, lurching, screaming, in a cruel, wrenching musical vertigo.

Not for a second were dynamics exaggerated or balances contrived. What we heard was Brahms, and only Brahms.

The Chicagoans proved themselves undiminished from the headiest days of Solti. They are, if anything, a warmer, more homogenous band of professionals now. No longer does it seem appropriate to single out the horn section or rave about the brass. Chicago has everything -- a ravishing string sound, woodwinds of gold.

The packed concert opened with Mr. Barenboim as his own soloist in the Mozart. This was a cleverly small-scaled performance, beautifully articulated by all, yet heard to regrettable effect in the vast blah of the Washington venue.

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