Tragic Overture, Op.81
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Gidon Kremer (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 23 January, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This stimulating mix of works began with a pulsating account of Brahms’s Tragic Overture, a little unkempt at first but gathering strength of purpose that could be a little too rigid but also yielded effectively.
Emmanuel Krivine’s conducting of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto was well-judged if without revelation, the London Philharmonic supporting and complementing Gidon Kremer in generous fashion. Kremer himself, while lacking the fullest of tone in the upper registers and not always note-perfect and intonationally-exact, gave an absorbing account of the solo part, one blessedly free of novelty and false seduction, concentrating on line and expression, chill and emotional undercurrents – a raw translucence – armed with powerful up-bows, consideration without being careful and commitment and focus. The Adagio second movement was not overly ‘di molto’ but had real gravitas in its sharing of confidences and the finale was perfectly judged in tempo for rhythms to have shape and the movement to grow. That Kremer played from the score is neither here nor there; he has essayed the work for many years and has notched up at least two recordings of it. His playing here combined authority and identification and he offered the first movement of Ysaÿe’s Fifth Sonata (Aurora) as an encore – from nothingness to glorious, athletic flourish.
The rarity on the programme was Alexander Zemlinsky’s large-scale (circa 45 minutes) symphonic poem based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”. Composed in 1902 and first heard the following year, Vienna-born Zemlinsky (1871-1942) amalgamates stylistic traits of Richard Strauss and Wagner and mixes in ‘early’ Schoenberg (Verklärte Nacht and Pelleas und Melisande), conjures the brilliance of Rimsky-Korsakov and suggests that he could have joined Erich Wolfgang Korngold in Hollywood. Which is not to say that Zemlinsky was consciously aping; rather he was breathing similar air to colleagues and even anticipating: one passage in the first movement, tinged by tubular bells, seems to anticipate Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. (Zemlinsky had a fling with Alma Schindler, who would become Mahler’s wife, and, in 1901, Zemlinsky became Schoenberg’s brother-in-law.)
Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) is a glorious canvas, vivid in its suggestion, full of voluptuous and heroic ideas. In three parts, the work can be heard as a three-movement symphony, albeit the structure is looser than a symphony would demand: music that thrills, seduces and paints pictures. Krivine and the LPO – working in harmony – clearly relished Zemlinsky’s lavish score and gave the strongest possible case for playing it – and playing it again!