For someone who spends most of his time conducting and saving the world, Barenboim’s piano skills are in amazing shape, at least as evidenced by his performance of the second concerto (which he played first). Nonetheless, those looking for sheer virtuosity were probably better off with Lang Lang’s Philharmoniker Liszt program earlier the same weekend; Barenboim did not seem interested in superficial flashiness. He was most memorable in the chamber music sensitivity he brought to the quieter passages, where he worked admirably closely with the orchestral soloists. More than a few spots in the E-flat Concerto were approximate, and at one point he came in a few beats early. But between them Barenboim and Boulez made these (in my opinion) kind of annoying concertos sound better and more substantial than they deserve.
The rest of the program consisted of two instrumental works by Wagner: the early Faust Overture and the Siegfried Idyll. Both were vintage Boulez, spotlessly precise, lean, restrained, and transparent. The Faust Overture sounds more like Weber or Meyerbeer than mature Wagner, and isn’t the kind of repertoire I associate with Boulez at all, but I found Boulez’s cool approach surprisingly exciting. The Siegfried Idyll was just beautiful (and since I’ve played it a few times a little strange to experience from the orchestra’s sound perspective). The orchestra sounded even better than their already-excellent Chaikovsky under Barenboim last February.
Staatskappelle Berlin; Pierre Boulez, conductor; Daniel Barenboim, piano. Musikverein, 6/5/2011. Program: Liszt, Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Wagner, Siegfried Idyll and Faust Overture