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“Barenboim on Beethoven: Masterclass Volume One” is the
first of two DVDs released by EMI during 2006. These discs
are devoted to discussing and disseminating information
about the first movements of three different Beethoven
Piano Sonatas. In this case, the pieces referenced were
“Sonata No. 16, Opus 31 No. 1,” “Sonata No. 21, Op. 53,
known as the ‘Waldstein’,” and “Sonata No. 23, Op. 57,
known as the “Appassionata.” Directed by Allan Miller and
consisting of three films with approximate running times of
54 minutes each, this volume features three different pianists
playing the first movement of the aforementioned Sonatas.
These masterclasses were filmed during 2005 in Chicago, with
Maestro Barenboim seated at another piano next to
the performers, easily illustrating his points.

David Kadouch (1985 – ) played the first movement of
“Sonata No. 16,” Saleem Abboud-Ashkar (1976 – ) played the
first movement of “Sonata No. 21,” and Lang Lang (1982 – )
played the first movement of “Sonata No. 23.” By this time,
Lang Lang was an international megastar, with a Deutsche
Grammophon contract; yet, he used a score while playing
the Allegro Assai of the “Appassionata,” seemingly presenting
it as a “work in progress.” By contrast, the other two pianists
worked from memory, and brought more “finished conceptions”
to the masterclass.

No matter. Maestro Barenboim acknowledged the talent of
each pianist, and then proceeded to discuss the inner workings
of each respective movement, from both musical and
philosophical perspectives. At this performance level, he provided
extreme “fine tuning,” and it was fascinating to watch him
bring his considerable experience with this music to bear.
After each session, he allowed the audience members to ask
questions, and he struck me as an excellent clinician with a
self-effacing manner. Each segment also featured short
interviews with the performing pianists, along with
film clips from Maestro Barenboim’s performances of these
works. In 2005, he filmed his renditions of all 32 Beethoven
Piano Sonatas in Berlin, which was released as a four-DVD set.
In fact, these aforementioned masterclass volumes were
combined with his performance DVDs and offered as a six-disc
set entitled, “Barenboim on Beethoven.” Having seen five of
these discs, I’m eager to watch the last one.

When interviewed, Maestro Barenboim stated that Beethoven’s
music was inexhaustible, without an “absolute” performance
method. He believes that performing is a way of life, as
opposed to a “profession.” This valuable DVD provided me
with an opportunity to observe a first-class musical mind,
probing and discussing this immortal music. It deserves the
highest marks.

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