I could not listen to a work and tell you how one conductor treats it versus another. That's why I'm grateful for Alex Ross and his article in this week's New Yorker (here) that explains the touch that Daniel Barenboim brought to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The only sound bite of press I heard about Barenboim's exit concerts earlier this month was that he got a 15-minute standing ovation. Here's an excerpt of some of Ross's richer insights:
"The performance advertised the fact that Barenboim has left the Chicago Symphony in splendid shape. People always marvel over the Chicago brass, and with good reason: they have no equal. Each time another f was added to Bruckner’s stepwise crescendos, you could hear the gradation clicking into place, and the sound towered ever upward without cracking. But the Chicago strings are also world-class these days. They have acquired that darkly throbbing tone that used to be the sole property of the Berlin Philharmonic. They seemed especially in synch with Barenboim’s roving beat; when he rocked backward on his feet, making the gestures of a drowning man, and then recovered to deliver a punching downbeat, they trembled and dug in with him. . .
During the fifteen-minute ovation that followed the Beethoven, Barenboim went around shaking hands with—or, in many cases, hugging and kissing—all ninety-one members of the orchestra. In the process, an ovation that had initially been directed at the conductor became an ovation for the players, with waves of applause rising up for the longest-serving veterans. You forgot the maestro, and focussed on those who had made the sounds. Barenboim could not have made a more graceful exit."