Abbado’s Elgar Symphony No. 2 was the great Berlin might-have-been, but Barenboim does no half-hearted job persuading anyone who didn’t already know it – like most of Europe – that this symphony is the equal of any of Mahler’s. You hear him vocally urging the orchestra to take flight in the great opening passage of optimism, charging to the summit at the end, and bringing the most nightmarish of scherzos tumbling to its close – truly believing in the work’s final sunset glow (the first time, given the clear woodwind droplets, that I’d thought of a rainbow here).
Occasionally there are Barenboim largesses: there’s no need, for example, to slow down for the depressive sighs in the first-movement exposition. It may just be the forwardness of the beautifully-balanced sound picture that doesn’t give enough perspective to the ghost interlude shortly afterwards, and string pianissimos, though meticulously realized, don’t feel inscaped. But no doubt about it, the Staatskapelle Berlin is on fire with its conductor, and lovely details like the arpeggiated harp writing shine through.
Boult’s last words will always be my own nirvana in this music, but Barenboim’s Indian-summer version deserves a place on the shelves, too.