LSO/Kristjan Järvi Midori

Candide – Overture
Bernstein, arr. Harmon
Candide – Suite
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.99
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Midori (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Kristjan Järvi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 26 February, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Kristjan JärviKristjan Järvi (the younger conducting son of Neeme, Paavo being the elder) is undoubtedly very talented and confident. His recordings (not least of Franz Schmidt’s “Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln”) have impressed and he worked wonders with Duke Ellington’s Harlem at last year’s BBC Proms.

However, his conducting of Brahms 4 left much to be desired. Although tempos (flowing) and phrasing (unaffected) were well judged in the first two movements, Järvi’s penchant for overloud and carping trumpets and cannon-shot and thunderous timpani palled very early on. Throughout a great symphony such as this, such basic reliance on highlighting was, to say the least, disappointing (so, come the end of the first movement, when the drums can let rip, such an outburst now was meaningless).

There may have been some silky-smooth strings along the way, not least in the slow movement (with the tempo convincingly set for Andante moderato) but this was a more a moment of aural relief than anything germane to the work. While there was evidence that Järvi was enjoying the surface of the music, there was little to substantiate a deeper understanding of it; plenty of trumpets and drums seemed enough because that’s all that could be heard – properly – when they played … until the trombones chipped-in for the finale!

The scherzo – marked Allegro giocoso – was all the former and none of the latter, while the finale was relentless, save for an ill-timed slowing for the flute variation. Instead of serving up bludgeoned Brahms, Järvi might have paid more attention to the tiny fluffs in the playing that suggested a less than rigorous rehearsal.

A worrying decibel level had also informed the music from “Candide”, which was bright and noisy and lost charm well before the close. More light and shade was needed and a less ‘sock it to them’ approach; this was too much the amplified Broadway Musical (“Candide” is less classifiable than this, Bernstein himself eventually deemed it an opera). The playing was never quiet enough (and never suggested it would be); indeed this was a chromium-plated and hard-hitting performance that reduced the music’s subtlety and rather disabused Charlie Harmon’s well-intended Suite, which followed a certainly-lively account of the familiar Overture that was all bright lights (too much so in this particular acoustic), not always side-stepping the tricky aspects of the piece.

Midori. Photograph: and Dan BorrisStrangely, the LSO’s accompaniment to Midori for Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto veered to the bland side (Shostakovich excludes trumpets and trombones from his scoring, but Patrick Harrild made a notable contribution on his tuba), certainly in the fast second (decorous rather than pungent woodwinds) and final (more edge needed) movements. But, then, Midori’s account of the solo part might be thought over-refined for all the excellence of her musicianship. However well the introspection of the first movement was caught, its shadows and recesses were less successfully mined. The highlight was the impassioned ‘Passacaglia’ third movement that rose to genuine intensity, and Midori’s assumption of the lengthy finale-linking cadenza was purely focussed and intently quickened.

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