Daniel Barenboim recorded a fine Elgar Falstaff with the London Philharmonic in 1974 so it is touching that he should program the work 40 years later for this Europakonzert recorded in Berlin’s Philharmonie. It is thrilling to hear players rip into the piece as though it were Don Juan or Till Eulenspiegel and the performance emphasises Elgar’s affinity with Strauss. The big moments come across with visceral impact while the gentle reflective moments are breathtakingly beautiful.
Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony may divide opinion; those who believe the Russian way is the only way will turn their noses up, but those with open ears will recognise a deeply emotional reading with broad tempi and grandly moulded gestures. Barenboim goes straight through with barely a breath between movements, and his conducting is a miracle of economy; there are big rallentandi and obvious gear changes but they are always organic and the orchestra stick to him like glue.
Tonal resources mean there’s always something in reserve and the huge climaxes are always rounded; an iron fist in a velvet glove. Individual contributions are predictably superb but principal clarinettist Wenzel Fuchs stands out – the players are clearly enjoying themselves. Vision is crystal clear and sound is transparent yet warm with plenty of slam.