PROM 34: WEST–EASTERN DIVAN ORCHESTRA | BBC Proms 2019

The lucky six thousand or so of us that got a ticket to this obscenely over-subscribed Prom were packed in like sardines. 78-year-old Martha Argerich is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of all time, and 76-year-old Daniel Barenboim one of the greatest conductors of all time. What’s more, they were both born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina; childhood friends, and have remained so ever since. So a chance to see them on stage, together, is to be leapt at.

Disappointing then that Argerich, not afraid of making ugly, aggressive sounds, gave a noticeably clumsy and rather bashy rendition of Tchaikovsky’s infamously difficult Piano Concerto No. 1. This didn’t seem to bother anyone. The roar of the crowd at the finale was deafening, with many giving an immediate standing ovation. Barenboim and Argerich had no interaction during the performance, but it was sweet to see the camaraderie between them during the bows.

Coming back after the interval, about a thousand people had left. But for most of us, the Prom continued with Barenboim leading his own ensemble, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, in a passionate and finely observed Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutosławski. The first half opened with Schubert’s mournful, “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8 in a very romantic playing, the strings sounding particularly rich, even sweeping and bending.

While Argerich did not offer us an encore, Barenboim did: Beethoven’s Egmont Overture in its entirety. This seemed to be the most passionate performance of the evening, with Barenboim whipping the orchestra through the finale at break-neck speed. All in all, perhaps not quite living up to the hype, but a great evening of music nonetheless.

1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.

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