Prom 34: West-Eastern Divan Orch/Barenboim/Argerich review – immaculate and mesmerising

Royal Albert Hall, London
Martha Argerich’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto bristled with intensity and intent

When Martha Argerich last appeared at the Proms with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra three years ago, she played Liszt’s First Piano Concerto, a work that had not been part of her regular repertory for many years. For her return visit with her old friend and his orchestra, Argerich opted for another work that has not figured in her London appearances in a long time, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

As always with Argerich, it was a mesmerising performance. Not a perfect one by any means – some of her characteristic changes of gear, especially in the finale, left Barenboim and the orchestra scrambling to keep up. Nor was it a particularly profound or searching one, but it bristled with intensity and intent from the first bar, so often propelled by the crystal-clear precision that still comes so naturally to her, and the lines of the slow movement floated with weightless ease.

There was no encore this time from Argerich, but at the end of the concert Barenboim and the orchestra did follow Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. By then, though, there had already been plenty of proof that WEDO, celebrating its 20th birthday this year, is now a very fine band. The woodwind and brass are particularly characterful, and Barenboim used them to bring out the dark, threatening undertow to Lutosławski’s early showpiece, as well as its elements of unbuttoned virtuosity. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony had been immaculate, too, viewed very much through the prism of late-19th-century romanticism, with long, Bruckner-like tendrils of melody. Not to all tastes, but effective in this context, at least.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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