Prom 34 – West-Eastern Divan Orchestra  

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (named after a Goethe collection of poems) was founded in 1999 by world-renowned Argentinian conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim and with Edward Said. It comprises an equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians together with some from Turkey, Iran and Spain. Its aim is to promote equality, co-operation and justice for all. After meeting for summer workshops, it undertakes an annual international tour, usually including an appearance at the Proms in London, this time with Martha Argerich as concerto soloist.

The evening opened with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in which Barenboim opted for a measured tempo in the first movement thereby exploiting every nuance of the Royal Albert Hall acoustic. The timpani work at the end of the beautiful slow second movement was delightful and there was plenty of Schubertian colour.

Then the charismatic Argerich played Tchaikovsky’s familiar first piano concerto. Her life-long friendship and rapport with Barenboim (they were both born in Buenos Aires) was evident both visually and aurally. I’m not convinced, however, that this piece allowed her to play with the subtlety of which she is pre-eminently capable. Given too that she is now 78 and slightly shaky on her feet, I’ll pretend I didn’t notice the rather large number of wrong notes. Instead let’s focus on the engaging sight of her rhythmically rocking from side to side with pleasure at the opening of the middle movement and the light insouciance with which she delivered the chirpy dance-like passage.

The high spot was the Lutoslawski concerto for orchestra (1954) with which the concert ended. Full of Polish folk and folksy melodies with spikily original orchestration, Barenboim made the piece sound fresh and dynamic especially in the striking passage which opens the third movement with soft pizzicato from basses soon ethereally joined by piano and then cor anglais.

Reviewed by Susan Elkin

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim

Soloist: Martha Agerich