Verklärte Nacht, Op.4
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Le bourgeois gentilhomme Suite, Op.60
Sergej Krylov (violin)
English Chamber Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 8 April, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
This enterprising programme produced a good house but still with a worrying number of empty seats. Given the presence of Vladimir Ashkenazy, the inclusion of Mendelssohn’s best-known violin concerto and it being a Saturday night, one would have expected the hall to be full. It might have been wiser to avoid programming Schoenberg (even at his most approachable) and one of Richard Strauss’s least-known works (although not one of his least delightful) together.
Musically too it was an evening of mixed fortunes. In ‘Transfigured Night’, a couple walk in the moonlight, she confesses she is pregnant by another man, he makes a declaration of selfless devotion – transfigured by his love, they walk on through “the high, bright night”. Ashkenazy clearly feels this music deeply and although there were good individual contributions – violin and viola solos from, respectively, Stephanie Gonley (serenely eloquent) and Norbert Blume – Ashkenazy’s volatile switches of tempo veered between frenetic activity (frequently slightly untidy) and leaving the music becalmed. The work’s broad outline of tortured angst followed by calm acceptance needed a less excitable hand on the tiller.
There can have been few more perverse or less stylish performances of the Mendelssohn. Sergej Krylov comfortably exceeded the limits of artistic licence: if Mendelssohn wrote piano Krylov played it forte, and the reverse, and at the instruction senza ritard Krylov made an extreme slowing. Krylov’s lugubrious tempo for the ‘song without words’ slow movement became a funereal dirge. The orchestral contribution was scrappy but, given the soloist’s vagaries, it would have needed a psychic on the podium to guess ‘what next?’.
The evening was redeemed by a delicious performance of the rarely played suite from Strauss’s Incidental Music for “Le bourgeois gentilhomme”, the nine movements eliciting some superb playing from individual members of the orchestra. Gonley was a consistent delight in the ubiquitous violin solos that run like a silver thread through the whole piece, her ‘Polonaise’ in particular oozing seductive style, whilst Caroline Dale gave a memorable rendition of the cello solo in the final dinner-table music. Elsewhere there were fine contributions from the oboist and Simon Crawford-Phillips’s crisp neo-classical account of the piano part gave pleasure; and even – heaven be praised – there was some subtle percussion in the Turkish-style of ‘Cléonte’s Entrance’.
Much of this music relies on pastiche and self-parody (the self-quotation of the sheep episode from Don Quixote to describe a saddle of mutton arriving in the four-course feast of the final movement); and when Strauss uses Lully’s original music, it becomes affecting and dignified. Ashkenazy presided over this musical banquet like a jovial Maître D.