LPO/Krivine Nelson Goerner

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11
Roméo et Juliette, Op.17 – Scène d’amour
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)

Nelson Goerner (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Emmanuel Krivine

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Having given a perceptive rendition of Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto on the South Bank two years ago, when he replaced Pires, Nelson Goerner was the obvious choice for a performance of its E minor successor – in the process renewing his association (in London anyway) with Emmanuel Krivine. More imposing in conception, the concerto (published first, hence the numbering) finds Hummel replacing Weber as the main stylistic model – while being, in technique and expression, as similar as its completion the same year (1830) might suggest.

Formally, the piece is more solid but also more staid – as though Chopin were working hard to fulfil a pre-arranged ground-plan; musical interest lies in the effortlessness with which the soloist diffuses the main themes across passagework ranging from coruscating runs to limpid arabesques. A range such as Goerner, his dextrous style and clarity even more apparent than on that previous occasion, is ideally equipped to convey. The opening Allegro emerged unusually coherent and well-proportioned, its varied reprise following on seamlessly from the cumulative sequences of the development. The half-lit tones of the Larghetto were fastidiously shaded and the finale had the requisite verve and lilting charm to round off the work in scintillating style.

Krivine weighed in with a thoughtful handling of the orchestral part – not so much ineffectual as just plain dull, but here evincing poetic woodwind touches (surely four horns are not specified, or necessary!) and with the strings’ contribution more than just textural filler. Whether taken for granted or dismissed with contempt by its respective admirers and detractors, the concerto can seldom have sounded so convincing as here.

The very thorough Krivine is a conductor full of surprises. The ‘Scène d’amour’ from Berlioz’s “Roméo et Juliette” is seldom heard as a separate piece these days, but the central movement from the instrumental portion of this strangely compelling work makes a viable tone poem (had the genre existed in 1838) in its own right. Purposeful and forward-moving, Krivine’s approach was a world away from the suffused intensity of Colin Davis, but highly convincing on its own terms – and with a timbral variety to the string-playing that indicated Krivine’s former standing as a very promising and prize-winning violinist. A pity the initial orchestral bars (before the offstage chorus present in the complete work) were omitted, but the formal presence of the slow movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was all the more marked in consequence.

Mendelssohn at large began and ended the evening. The Hebrides emerged as more a symphonic overture than the scenic rhapsody for which it (too) often passes – while in the Italian Symphony, Krivine did not try to disguise that this is a symphonic suite rather than a symphony. The opening movement maintained its propulsive energy right through, with the observation of the exposition repeat (giving us the delightful extra bars of lead-in) and an unusually forceful development giving it more weight than is often the case. Krivine judged the middle movements to perfection – the tramping bass line of the second tellingly pointed, and the lyricism of the third never cloying in its pathos. If the finale could have had even more impetus as saltarello and tarantella rhythms combine in climactic accord, there was no doubting the brusque finality of the movement as a whole.

Spirited and attentive playing from the London Philharmonic – confirming its relationship with Krivine has become a productive one.

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