Kreizberg and the Philharmonia – 16 March

Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, K384 – Overture
Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K218
Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor

Isabelle van Keulen (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Yakov Kreizberg

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 March, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

It’s one thing to play music at speed; it’s quite another to inflect and colour it. Operatic overtures setting the scene as they do, this rushed and bludgeoned account of the one to Mozart’s harem-escapade, with over-projected trumpets and ’Turkish’ percussion, proved an unfortunate presage for the evening as a whole.

Isabelle van Keulen suggested through her body language during the concerto’s orchestral exposition a rather more varied and dimensional account than she actually delivered. Conductor and soloist were well matched in this charmless rendition. Her steely, penetrative tone, if not her unkempt technique, may have matched the solo part’s brilliance, but not its subtlety or lyricism – the ’Andante cantabile’ went for nothing; the ’Finale’, with its lack of courtly manners and unconvincing, mannered pauses, was graceless.

Although Yakov Kreizberg had all this music in his head – the whole concert conducted from memory – and he was alive to each score’s surface, his rhythmic rigidity and lack of variegation failed the far reaches of Mahler Five. This was a hard-driven reading, which may have whipped up a storm but did so too often and with little change across the movements. Climaxes were crude and brass-dominated; the hard-working strings often swamped. When still-centres were found – the cello-led recitative in the second movement for example – such interludes seemed contrived and attention seeking; this was an inorganic Mahler 5.

Of note was Kreizberg’s swift and probably ideal tempo for the ’Adagietto’. At just under nine minutes, this has the imprimatur of Mengelberg, Mahler’s friend and early interpreter; yet convincing as this was as an intimate ’love letter’, and beautifully played by the strings, Kreizberg again indulged in phrasal distension, which rather lost the movement its shape. Kreizberg drove through the initial serenade-charm of the ’Scherzo’ losing the movement the impact of its mood-swings if not head-butting sonorities. The ’Finale’, short on imagery and wit, drove to its conclusion joylessly – a wearying rather than uplifting traversal.

Swift Mahler is fine, but you need the rhythmic pliancy of a Rafael Kubelik; and Kreizberg has little of the contrapuntal translucency of Mikko Franck, or an ear for the music’s rusticity such as Ingo Metzmacher. When it comes to aggressive, first-past-the-post Mahler, Kreizberg doesn’t get my vote; and it takes a lot to strip the Philharmonia of its culture and warmth in a single evening. If the playing was terrific – all the principals, not least Alistair Mackie’s opening trumpet solo, first-class – it was set in a jarring ambience.

  • This Thursday, 21 March, Yakov Kreizberg conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and, with Michael Collins, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto transcribed for clarinet by Mikhail Pletnev
  • RFH Box Office: 020 7960 4201
  • Stop Press – change of programme: Michael Collins now plays Mozart&#146s Clarinet Concerto; the concert begins with the overture to The Marriage of Figaro.

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