Mixed Reaction to Krivine’s Debut Concert with SCO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schumann, Beethoven: Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Carolin Masur (mezzo), Dominik Masur (tenor), Konstantin Wolff (bass), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emmanuel Krivine (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 08.05.2014 (SRT)

Schumann:   Overture, Scherzo and Finale
Beethoven:  Symphony No. 9


Emmanuel Krivine has just been announced as the SCO’s new Principal Guest Conductor.  This is his first concert since the announcement, and his reputation in Beethoven is pretty strong (his recent set of the complete symphonies on Naïve gained a lot of plaudits) so I came with high expectations.

In the end, though, his success was only mixed.  What he is good at is colour.  That was particularly true in the Ninth Symphony’s finale, with some unusually urgent horns, and the trombones made a real difference when they entered the sound picture.  Similarly, the trumpets made a thrilling impact when they rang out at the climax of the slow movement.  However, his tempi were a problem.  His preference for fast speeds is well known, and it worked very well in the Scherzo, which sounded like a diabolical machine; but he hurried through the slow movement in a tempo that was closer to Allegretto than Adagio molto, and that rather killed the music’s ability to let those rhapsodic phrases breathe.  More worrying was the lack of precision in ensemble that beset the music on more than one troubling occasion.  The development of the first movement felt a little frayed, as did the Scherzo’s trio section, and twice in the finale (once for the orchestra alone, once with the chorus) the quality of ensemble was ragged, to say the least.  Now, mistakes are all but inevitable in live music-making, but why did I notice them so much more tonight?

I wasn’t that fussed on his shaping of the big moments either.  The first movement, for example, reached its volcanic climax at the start of the recapitulation, but the coda didn’t have enough edge about it to make it sound sinister and, that one example apart, the climaxes were never quite powerful enough to hit home.  The soloists were a bit of a mixed bag, too.  Konstantin Wolff’s smoky bass didn’t pin you to the back of your seat on his first entry, but the colour of the voice made him very interesting to listen to in the rest of the movement.  Ruth Ziesak crested beautifully above the rest of the texture, though Carolin Masur struggled to distinguish herself.  Dominik Masur had a pleasant ring to his tenor, though he was prey to being overwhelmed at the end of his “Turkish” section.  The finest plaudits, in fact, went to the SCO chorus, who really let rip at Seid umschlungen (once they were let off the leash) and enunciated with admirable clarity throughout.

To my great surprise, I was much keener on Krivine’s way with Schumann, for which he adopted an unashamedly Romantic tone with modern brass and ample vibrato on the strings.  No matter what I’m told, I still don’t think there’s an awful lot to the Overture, Scherzo and Finale, but it was shaped well, leading up to the hymn-like ring of the final coda.  En route we were treated to some lovely string playing (rich in the outer movements, whispery in the Scherzo) and some beautiful, flowing winds in the middle movement’s trio.

Simon Thompson

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