Anton Bruckner must have learned a lot about composition from his lifelong, devoted study of Mozart's music, but his own music shows no evidence of it; the two Austrian composers are polar opposites in almost every respect. They illustrate a curious thing about great art: The better a work becomes, the more it is individual, unmistakable and different from other great art.
Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made that fact even clearer with Thursday's program at Symphony Center: Mozart's "Coronation" piano concerto (No. 26 in D Major, K. 537) and Bruckner's epic Symphony No. 7 in E Major.
As soloist in one and conductor in both, he was masterful.The Barenboim phenomenon has been before us too long for that to cause any surprise, but it is still rewarding.
His playing of Mozart had a helium-filled buoyancy, combining maximum power with minimum weight. His scales and arpeggios make any would-be pianist regret any time not spent practicing. Barenboim has done away with any feeling of effort, of push from behind; the energy seems to come entirely from the music.
The Larghetto theme, with its five repeated notes, seems simple to the point of childishness. Barenboim, playing theartful rubatos with one hand and conducting them with the other, turned the movement into a royal ride on a cushion of strings. In the finale a few missed notes were noticeable, chiefly because there had been so few.
Bruckner's symphony is more than twice the length of Mozart's, and is scored for an orchestra at least twice the size.Yet it has enough musical ideas to fill all the additional room.
The orchestra gave it a sound of unbroken magnificence. An amplified brass section including six horns, five euphoniums and a contrabass tuba turned the fortissimo climaxes into towering blocks of sonic masonry. The woodwinds only two of each were beautiful embroidery. Flutist Mathieu Dufour's solo work was liquid silver. The symphony is a wondrous piece of architectural design. Its form is not obvious; this music seems to wander at will through its mountainous Austrian countryside. But the journey, unlike some of Bruckner's symphonies, is unfailingly interesting, and in this performance its high points were genuinely exciting.
One of them was the third movement Scherzo, with its trumpet call to action bringing out an eager orchestral army. And the finale, with brass and strings at full throttle, threatened the eardrums.
There is no shortage of musical material here, no papering over of blank spots, no struggle to get out of one passage and into the next. With this symphony, Bruckner truly earned his master's degree.
Barenboim conducted without a score. He has recorded this work and knows it well, but it is impressive to see anyone conduct this benign brontosaurus of a symphony from memory and not only conduct it, but turn it into a musical feast.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times