Daniel Barenboim - Chicago;  Aikin, Heppner & Pape   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-876)
Item# C1719
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Daniel Barenboim - Chicago;  Aikin, Heppner & Pape   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-876)
C1719. DANIEL BARENBOIM Cond. Chicago S.O.: Lustspiel - Overture (Busoni), Live Performance, 4 Jan., 1996; Entführung - Overture (Mozart), Live Performance, 8 Feb., 1996; w.Laura Aikin, Ben Heppner & René Pape: Christus am Ölberge (Beethoven), Live Performance, 15 & 16 Feb., 1996. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-876, all Orchestra Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


“Beethoven liked to claim that his 1802 oratorio, CHRISTUS AM OLBERGE, took only fourteen days to write, although at the time he had said it took several weeks. He complained consistently about the libretto but in the end didn’t accept the revisions proposed by the publisher when the score came into print a decade later (this accounts for the high opus number, op. 85), saying that whatever its flaws, the original text had been carefully fitted with the music. He considered it as something of a stepchild, but CHRISTUS AM OLBERGE suited the piety of the age. It was Beethoven’s first success in America when premiered here in 1809, and Vienna saw an annual performance every year until 1825.

There is a good deal to commend this 1996 concert reading in Chicago under Daniel Barenboim. It was the CSO’s first complete performance (the concluding chorus used to be fairly popular on its own, so I imagine it featured in incomplete performances), and the tenor soloist, who sings the part of Jesus as he agonizes in the Garden of Gethsemane, is Ben Heppner in luminous voice. Heppner isn’t well known in this genre, but he has also been inspiring in Elgar’s DREAM OF GERONTIUS. Beethoven’s only oratorio may be a mixed bag - it sounds in places as if it took only fourteen days to compose - which accounts for the relative scarcity of recordings. Yet if you can find a copy, the work has been recorded with Fritz Wunderlich (nla), Nicolai Gedda (nla), and Plácido Domingo. Domingo’s version is in the best sound, under Kent Nagano with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Harmonia Mundi), but this CSO account, taken from an FM stereo broadcast, sounds quite good.

I’d choose Heppner for the exceptional beauty of his voice and the fact that his German is much better than Domingo’s. Barenboim’s conducting is fine; there are no particular challenges in the score for him, the orchestra, or the chorus. Nothing is less than excellent. Perhaps Barenboim, in his advocacy of traditional Beethoven style, is a little staid compared with Nagano, but my real reservation concerns soprano Laura Aikin as the angel. The part is in bel canto style, a style of vocal writing that Beethoven was still using at the appearance of his opera LEONORA in 1805 before the score underwent its transformation into FIDELIO. Aikin is in lovely voice and sings lyrical passages very well, but her coloratura features blurred trills, smudged runs, and shrillness in the part’s high notes (a few of the highest are just squeaky approximations). These defects aren’t fatal, but they prevent this recording from being a cinch for first place.

Intriguingly, Barenboim paired CHRISTUS AM OLBERGE on the same program with Bernstein’s ‘Jeremiah’ Symphony to bring together Christian and Jewish religious music. He personally selected the Beethoven for inclusion in a CSO box set released in 2000 to commemorate the new millennium. Here, St. Laurent Studio has filled the disc with Busoni’s entertaining, ebullient ‘Lustspiel’ Overture and an even rarer Busoni work, his arrangement (was one needed?) of the overture to Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO. The beefed-up orchestra is Wagnerian; Barenboim leads an exuberant performance.

There’s so much to enjoy here that a recommendation is almost automatic. St. Laurent Studio customarily includes no program notes or texts, which can be filled in online or from other recordings if you own one.”

- Huntley Dent, FANFARE

"Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires on November 15, 1942, into a family of Ukrainian Jewish descent. Daniel's mother was his first piano teacher; he later studied with his father, Enrique Barenboim, who was an eminent music professor. After playing for violinist Adolph Busch, who was impressed by his talent, Daniel made his debut recital at the age of seven. In 1951, he played at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and observed Igor Markevitch's conducting class. The family moved to Israel in 1952; two years later, Daniel went back to Salzburg for a conducting course with Markevitch, piano studies with Edwin Fischer, and chamber music performance with Enrico Mainardi. He studied conducting with Carlo Zecchi at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, also attending Nadia Boulanger's music theory and composition class at Fontainebleau. His U.S. debut was at Carnegie Hall on January 20, 1957, in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto #1, with Leopold Stokowski conducting the Symphony of the Air.

Debuts with leading orchestras included the London Symphony Orchestra (New York, 1968), Berlin Philharmonic (1969), and New York Philharmonic (1970). Since then he has guest conducted virtually all of the world's leading orchestras.

In 1967, Barenboim married the brilliant cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, with whom he made several exceptional recital recordings. Unfortunately, this partnership ended when Du Pré contracted multiple sclerosis, which forced her to end her playing career in 1972. She died in 1987.

In 1989 he was named as Sir George Solti's successor as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1992, Barenboim became music director of the Berlin State Opera, then named chief conductor for life by its orchestra in 2002. In 1999, with Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, Barenboim co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a summer youth orchestra designed to foster understanding and cooperation, and he established the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. Devoted to the training of young Arab and Israeli musicians, the school opened in 2016. A recording of Beethoven's Symphony #9 by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra appeared in 2013.

Barenboim has a rich recorded repertoire as a conductor, pianist, accompanist, and chamber music player. Interestingly, as a pianist, he tends to focus on Mozart, Beethoven, and the early Romantics, while as a conductor he favors later Romantic music, particularly Brahms and Bruckner (he has won a medal from the Bruckner Society of America."

- James Manheim, allmusic.com