Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92 Strauss
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
London Symphony Orchestra
LSO/Krivine 9 Feb
Sunday, February 09, 2003 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
If concerts should offer illuminating juxtapositions, either Beethovens Eroica or Fifth symphonies would have been the apposite coupling to Strausss blockbuster, which brought Emmanuel Krivine a resounding success in his LSO concert debut. One notes his elaborate conducting technique. So many hand signals might cause a traffic accident and there wasnt always a commensurate aural response from the LSO in Beethovens dance symphony, as Wagner dubbed it.
Krivines interesting reading of Beethoven 7 was encapsulated in the slow introduction through masculine/feminine contrasts, swift despatch, chamber-like balances and refined soundworld, a French response intimating Berlioz, not unreasonable historically, and, given Krivines rhythmic delineation and coolness, Stravinskys neo-classicism. Lacking, apart from some repeats in the Scherzo (curious given their observance in the outer movements), was earthiness and heft. With a foundation of just five double basses and by not doubling Beethovens woodwind pairs, Krivines within-parameters textural lucidity and tempo-fleetness proved limiting across the four movements. Terpsichorean connotations restricted, and with Dionysus blackballed, velocity and sobriety didnt quite gel.
Conversely, Heldenleben was fabulous. Its easy to disservice Strauss by making his music portentous and saturated something to wallow in. Krivine avoided all the pitfalls. Painstakingly balanced, seemingly incidental details were revealed afresh and pertinent. In viewing the work as one large structure, Krivine never allowed any sagging to intrude or distend. Episodes were through-related from the confident, here impulsive opening (Strauss as hero) to the reflective coda that glowed, rocked contentedly and enjoyed dignity. Gordan Nikolitchs violin solo was an exemplary portrayal of the heros seductive, feisty and capricious partner (Frau Strauss). The battle scene was tremendous in its collisions, Krivine demonstrating how cacophony is achieved not cacophony itself, and this might have been a lifetimes opportunity to register ALL the self-quotations that follow.
A compelling, often extraordinary performance, Krivine and the LSO, without sacrificing impact, emotion or amplitude, displayed Strauss as translucent-sounding impressionistic, even, when harps added swirls to the lovers consummation and creatively ingenuous. One of the finest Heldenlebens Im ever likely to hear. What a shame neither LSO Live nor Radio 3 was present.