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In the Hall of the Sausage-King
on 22 October 2016
What is the collective noun of sausages? On this matter, the memoirs of Abe Froman, late of Chicago, are silent. ‘Packet’ is too prosaic. ‘Pride’ is a misnomer. ‘String’ refers to a structural arrangement – nothing more. Resolution is required: sooner or later a retrospect of Danny Barenboim and his wares will be required. Without such a term at hand, how can anyone pen it?
All things converge. Five Star Generalissimo John Kwok clamours to be heard at this point (on Amazon.com). Ever one to slurp down a snag, he writes:
“I find Barenboim's playing rich in elegant technique (BO’H: ???) and warmth. Unlike Brendel (BO’H: to whom he also awards 5 stars), (Barenboim) views Beethoven with a deep emotional richness that is quite apparent throughout the entire sonata cycle. Barenboim shows that he is as comfortable playing Beethoven's early sonatas such as the Pathetique as he is with the later, more complex works like the Hammerklavier. Only (BO’H – a brave word, John!) Claudio Arrau and Wilhelm Kempff surpass Barenboim's combination of superb technique coupled with warm, passionate performances. Yet Barenboim's Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven sonata cycle is available at a far lower price than either Arrau's or Kempff's.”
Mmmmh. In its own way, this is a treasure-trove. Note the multiple references to ‘warmth’ and ‘technique’ in so short a space – “Gobble, gobble, gobble!” as the turkey says. As a corrective, read the review penned by Jurgen Lawrenz – a man who knows his stuff.
I have acquired this DG survey twice, the latter of which is still resident in my vault. It’s a shelf-clogger. DB’s career ignited on the basis of his late Sixties Beethoven and Mozart cycles on EMI which, in retrospect, were just as sausage-like as the endeavour here. Even so, they reeked of newness at the time. They’ve not weathered well. Come the mid-Eighties, the game was up. With the smell of sausages in the air, even the triumvirate of the Penguin Guide were faint in their praise of this DG cycle. In my revisitation of it, I pressure-tested four key junctures:
The messianic moment in the finale of the Waldstein (here at 8’03”ff)
The Vesuvius-like outburst in the first movement of the Tempest (here at 5’21”ff).
The finale of Op. 101.
The A Flat Major Sonata Op. 110 in its entirety.
Result: as ever, the Sausage King is concert-grade but the Word eludes him. Some movements are slower than usual. The opposite is true of others. It matters not. High proficiency is no entry into the Burning Fiery Furnace. On paper, I should be responsive to a Brucknerian approach to the finale of the Waldstein. I ain’t. It’s the tyranny of the tarmac.
If you seek immolation in this realm, I recommend Arrau, Gilels, Kempff (either cycle) or Backhaus on Decca, supplemented by the latter’s ‘end of days’ concert from April 1969 (offered by the Audite label) - in extremis indeed.