Clean, Punchy Interpretations from Krivine

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mendelssohn, Schumann, Beethoven: Nelson Goerner (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emmanuel Krivine (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 02.05.2013 (SRT)

Mendelssohn: Overture, The Fair Melusine
Schumann: Piano Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

Emmanuel Krivine has recently gained all manner of plaudits for his Beethoven symphony cycle on Naïve so he was a natural choice for the SCO to invite for this concert of core classics. The chief characteristic of his sound was something clean and stripped back yet still carefully coloured. The opening of his Fair Melusine, for example, was clipped and precise, with delectable clarinet sound filling in the glint of the rippling water. The string sound risked sounding severe when the more turbulent second theme first appeared, but it developed organically into something more rich and full of life by the time of its final statement.

Krivine’s tempi tended to be on the quick side, but this didn’t prevent the restraint and innate poetry of Schumann’s Piano Concerto from shining through, especially when played with such a beautiful touch by Nelson Goerner. He is clearly a pianist who listens carefully as he plays and, more than in many performances, his music making was marked out by the sense of a conversation with the orchestra rather than any sense of confrontation. His take on the finale, for example, was always buoyant but never bombastic or triumphalist, even in the final bars, and there was a lovely legato to his playing, even in the midst of the main cadenza. The orchestra responded in kind with especially beautiful string tone, such as the cellos in the Intermezzo or the wonderfully dreamy interlude in the first movement’s development.

Krivine uses vibrato but sparingly, and this made an enormous impact for his take on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, especially the Allegretto which sounded positively emaciated after the muscular vitality of the first movement. Krivine’s rapid tempi helped to focus the ear on Beethoven’s relentless rhythmic energy, and it was never speed for its own sake. The Scherzo, for example, was punchy but also fairly delicate and light on its feet, and I enjoyed the sleek, good humoured feel of the Trio. He was at his most exciting when he used the dynamic shading to increase the effect, and I loved the way he could blow away the cobwebs of familiarity with, say, a particular emphasis on a violin phrase or a fleck of horn colour. The orchestra really enjoyed responding to him and they revelled in the headlong whirl of the finale. Krivine’s dangerously fast tempo unleashed all of the music’s demonic energy to thrilling effect. If they played it like this 200 years ago then you can well understand Weber’s comment about Beethoven being “ripe for the madhouse!”

Simon Thompson