United Kingdom Brahms, Wagner, Schubert: Karen Cargill (mezzo), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emmanuel Krivine (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 05.11.2015 (SRT)
Brahms: Variations on a theme by Haydn
Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder
Schubert: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished”
Though he has conducted them several times before, this concert marked Emmanuel Krivine’s first outing as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor. Krivine is a well-established figure rather than a rising Young Turk, but he’s still pretty hot property, not least thanks to his recent Beethoven cycle with his own La Chambre Philharmonique, and he is a good choice for the position, balancing Robin Ticciati as the SCO’s Principal Conductor.
The orchestra has clearly warned to him, and surely not just because of the nice things he says about them in the programme. He shaped the Haydn Variations with a craftsman’s ear for variety, bringing out the contrasts between the variations and allowing the piece to breathe. He also managed to play to the differences of mood, even allowing some fun (not a word you often associate with Brahms!) to come through. The orchestra responded with a beautifully rich sound for the opening theme, with full, rounded winds and warm underpinning from the horns. The string tone was a little spidery from the violins in the first variation, showing Krivine’s comfort with period style, but it added a lot, and the cellos approached the final passacaglia with winning assertiveness.
The orchestra sounded great in the Wesendonck Lieder, too, with light, open string tone in Der Engel and a noticeably bigger sound for Stehe still. Träume was a knockout, with beautiful gentle throbbing from the strings at the opening, and an ending that sounded as though it was slipping away imperceptibly. Karen Cargill’s voice is pretty ideal for these songs, too; her ripe, sensuous tone sitting beautifully in the lower range but bright and piercing above the stave in Im Treibhaus. You can tell that she has sung Waltraute. The Siegfried Idyll was, if anything, even finer, with ripe, rich strings, pulsing with vibrato, and the involvement of the winds set the whole thing off like a fine jewel against a backcloth.
The Schubert was a more serious affair, with dark, brooding strings and ominous low brass. Tempi were on the fast side in the rather severe opening movement, but peace of a sort was found in a beatific Andante. If he is here for the long haul, then it looks as though Krivine’s developing relationship with the SCO will be one to watch.